Getting Too Caught Up in the Performance

After putting herself through a 40-day social media detox, Glennon Melton concluded that social media was negatively affecting the way she saw herself and the way she was living her life. She wrote about her experience on her blog, Momastery, in an article called “5 Reasons Why Social Media is Dangerous for Me” that was picked up by the Huffington Post. After her 40-day detox, Melton concluded that she wasn’t enjoying her offline life due to the fact that she was so consumed with social media and the online presentation of herself. She summed up why in these five points:

  1. Social media had transformed me into an input junkie.
  2. I’d become a validation junkie, too.
  3. Social media lured me toward shallow and rigid thinking.
  4. Social media threatened my only source of real peace and joy, which is gratitude
  5. During my Internet fast, I learned that social media makes me feel bad.

With each point Melton provided candid, informal analysis to explain herself. Primarily, she noted that she had become an “input junkie” (always having the urge to update) and a “validation junkie” (in constant need of online attention). These two first reasons go hand in hand – the more Melton put into her online performance, the more attention she would receive from Friends and followers which would in turn lead her to feel “validated” and important. She admitted that was she was using social media to “avoid her hot loneliess” and distract her “from stillness and discomfort.” In order to do so, she was constantly editing her online self presentation and living through a performance that was completely different than her offline self.


In “Without You, I’m Nothing: Performances of the Self on Twitter,” Zizi Papacharissi explains, “individuals are challenged to manage the persistence, replicability, scalability, and searchability of their performances fluently in environments that prompt (and in some instances reward) sharing.”  From the way Melton described her investment in her online persona, it seemed that she was constantly managing her performance and sharing with her Friends and followers because it made her feel better about herself. Papacharissi would say Melton was in a “constant state of redaction” as she was always editing and producing certain representations of herself.

Melton also became overly invested in her Friends’ and followers’  reactions to her online persona. She found herself in constant need of attention and found herself seeking validation (i.e.: a “like” or a comment on one of her status updates) on a regular basis. In “Cultivating Social Resources on Social Network Sites: Facebook Relationship Maintenance Behaviors and Their Role in Social Capital Processes,” Nicole Ellison, Rebecca Gray, Jessica Vitak,  and Cliff Lampe categorize small acts of attention like commenting and “liking” posts to be “social grooming.” Social grooming is a relationship maintenance behavior that “signals attention, builds trust, and creates expectations of reciprocal attention” (9). After looking back on her social media habits, Melton found that such acts from her Friends and followers were very important because each comment or “like” would give her validation. She ended up with the negative habit of developing critical reflexivity and always seeing herself the way she thought others perceived her. These perceptions began to define who she was.

“I realized that for me, posting is like asking the world — do you “like” me? Am I special enough? Am I funny enough, deep enough, smart enough, successful enough, love-able enough? How much do you like my opinion about this, that, and every other thing?”

Instead of using social media to maintain connections and seek emotional support from strong ties, Melton relied too much on social grooming as a form a validation from her weak ties. Because she enjoyed the support from her Friends and followers so much, Melton began to become overly invested in her online performance which in turn affected her offline life and how she saw herself. She began “thinking in status updates” and revolving her life around her audience’s perception.

“It seemed I had trained my brain to translate everything I experienced throughout the day into 140 characters or less.”

I found it really interesting that Melton was so invested in what her Friends and followers thought of her, but not once did she mention what she would post about on her social media sites. She also never addressed how her Friends and followers reacted to her posts. By the way she explained her obsession with her online persona it was clear that she was altering her self-presentation, but I am curious if she was posting in order to appeal to what Alice Marwickand Danah Boyd would refer to as the “lowest common denominator” (the majority of her audience) or if she was trying to convey a different image of herself through different taste statements as Hugo Liu discussed in “Social Network Profiles as Taste Performance.”

Melton’s struggles are real and are definitely important, but much of her points make her seem hypocritical and could come off as technologically determinist. At the end of her article, she has a quick turn around where she recognizes that social media has added good to her life and the world. She also notes that she still wants to use social media, she just has to monitor the way she uses it. I think if Melton uses social media to maintain relationships with strong ties instead of seeking validation from weaker ties, she will ultimately appreciate it more because she won’t feel as if she is obsessing over her online persona or “missing out” on offline life.


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