Dubai Diaries: Does it pay for a writer to be invisible on social media?

anamika@khaleejtimes.com Filed on August 5, 2021

Does a writer stop existing if their words don’t make it to their social pages?

Never undermine a friend’s ability to give you a reality check. Every now and then, I receive blows that make me reflect on my choices. The last one came as I reconnected with a former colleague, who, while complimenting my work, observed, “I think you are not promoting yourself very well.” Of course, I couldn’t bring myself to contest her observation. It was spot on.

Ever since social media emerged in the digital milieu, I have loved everything about it. Not only did it enable someone like me, who doesn’t ‘network’ compulsively, to put out my work on a public domain, it helped me connect with many potential subjects. I would take screenshots for Instagram stories for people to read my longish writings as capsules and post the links on Twitter and Facebook. Every comment and disagreement felt like a validation because someone somewhere was reading my work.

But then something happened. I call it the ‘social media fatigue’. I stopped posting my work. Instead, I now take great joy in reading something else I find interesting and posting it on my social media. I wonder if the writer’s vanity has taken a backseat. But what my friend’s innocent observation did was ask an important question — does a writer stop existing if their words don’t make it to their social pages?

You tell a writer that they’re beautiful and there’s less chance of them feeling as elated as when you tell them, “You wrote a good piece.” For that reason alone, social media is a fantastic platform. Of the 10 people who will read your piece, five will click the ‘like’ button, four will say you have done an amazing job and that one person will challenge you to rationalise your point of view.

But what if you dared for a little more? What if instead of validation, there was deconstruction? The fantasy that a thread from your argument will create a room for a more enriching dialogue. Sure, it’s idealism, but what such deconstruction does is it puts a greater onus on us to employ greater nuance while writing.

A few months ago, while invited to speak on how pandemic has shaped writers, I was told to wrap it up in 15 minutes. Reason? The organisers had assumed that the audiences have less attention span. I broke down my carefully researched talk into nuggets of information at the end of which there remained no complexity either about the times or how they’ve affected writers. Is this piecemeal the future of thinking and possibly even writing? It’s not that social media does not have ample room to do that.

Platforms like Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces have democratised the space for thoughtful discussion on subjects we often write about. But these are crowded and transient spaces, where numbers and views will ultimately decide the ‘success’ of a conversation. And your worth will lie somewhere in between someone’s ‘like’ and the other person’s ‘heart’.

Anamika Chatterjee