If you’ve read this space, it’s been a year since I’ve started writing about my experiences in social media. After a year, I’m still not sure I understand social media. I still LOVE to eat and taking pictures of my food just seems so natural these days. I’m still torn about what’s the purpose of it all. There’s a certain Darwinism about social media that’s unappealing yet attractive at the same time. The thrill of posting something online and getting a reaction whether it’s a like or a comment from others is not only validating but gives you temporary sort of happiness that your content and essentially your point of view is on the right track and more importantly, popular. The more you experience this and more engagement you get, it seems like it becomes a race to the bottom.
Before I go on, I do think social media (mostly Instagram) is a good construct that allows individuals to be creative in their storytelling and creates a low barrier to entry for introducing your content to a larger audience. But, the more your social media presence grows (whether it’s followers or engagements), you begin to improve upon your content, whether it’s a simple things like getting a light source or how you edit your photos. Eventually you’ll get noticed by marketers, PR people or generally anyone who wants to promote anything. In the food space, you get invited to restaurants to essentially eat for free with the implied agreement that you post content, regarding the restaurant, in a positive light. All of this is great! It creates a sense of authority for the account and gives a sense of validation to the content.
As your audience grows, you’ll discover that there are mechanisms out there that can “artificially” increase your engagement. The social media community usually derides these types of practices, arguing that it’s unethical and inauthentic. The flip side to that is that a good portion (probably a majority - at least according to John Oliver on 11.11.18) of social media users aim to get paid for posting content. The larger your audience, the more potential for compensation. It’s the classic CPM/”ratings” model applied to individuals. It makes sense, why not get paid for your work cultivating eyeballs? But again, I think this leads to more questions of ethics and authenticity. On top of that, these platforms (Facebook, Instagram, etc..) weren’t built to foster community, they were founded as platforms for advertising to give greater insights to individuals that traditional advertising couldn’t provide.
But, I’m writing this post during Thanksgiving and despite all I wrote above, I look back over the past year with a sense of affection and good memories associated with my experiences in social media. While, I’m cynical about why social media platforms were created, they have created community and given access to that community to any individual and have given individuals a voice. I’ve found that all these disparate voices matter. Yes, there is a lot of static but that’s worth the price of getting to listen to all of these voices especially when these voices aren’t generally represented in a larger society. Social media really does shine a light on underrepresented communities whether it’s immigrants, ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ community or any other group that needs to be heard.
On a more personal scale, social media has provided an actual community of close knit friends. I don’t think it’s a myth to say that it’s difficult to make friends as an adult and when I came back to Baltimore, I wasn’t sure how I would figure that out as I had lost touch with my friends here (having been away for so long). I would have never anticipated that I would make close friends and relationships through social media but in attending events, you run into the same people who you begin to relate to because of a shared love of food and eventually these friendships grow into real life experiences. I am thankful for the people I’ve met through social media and thankful for the friendships that have grown out of it.
I’m thankful for all the people in the industry that I’ve met along the way who seem to enjoy the content on my social media accounts. I”m thankful that I can help highlight the work and passion that they put into the food they serve and the people they feed. I’ve been fortunate to make so many friends along the way who toil anonymously in kitchens. There’s passion and drive in those places, in an environment that is less than forgiving. I’m thankful for their creativity and fire and while they work in a somewhat thankless environment, I’ve never met a group of people who take more joy in the moment. Any moment.
I am particularly thankful for the Chinatown Collective who have become not just a close knit group of friends but an extended family. If you read my Love Letter post, you’ll know that the Charm City Night Market was borne out of a group of friends who primarily met through social media and our love of eating. The Night Market turned into a platform that allowed us to share our Asian American experience. It turned out better than we could have ever hoped for and are grateful to the Baltimore community for their support. I’m grateful for all the vendors (many of whom, we met through social media) that believed in the concept and had faith in the individuals involved. I know I named you all before but I’m thankful for H, Pam, Charlie, Erica, Stephanie, Jamie & Marisa. I’m thankful that we moved beyond a love of food to lasting friendships.
Finally, there’s Gina
I have a reluctance to write about even more personal relationships in this space because of a desire for privacy and some irrational learned behavior from previous relationships. We met by saying good bye to an industry friend who was always great in showing us the ways of hospitality and service. I don’t know how she’ll react to this post and I’m not certain how long this will last for a lot of reasons but primarily because of life changing events at the end of this year. I know there are a multitude of differences between us from our work schedules to our upbringings to our expectations for relationships. It’s my belief that those differences are what enriches this relationship rather than hinder it. But, this isn’t a post to try and figure out a future. It’s a post to be thankful for the past. I’m thankful for having met you Gina. I’m thankful for you bringing back alive a life that seemed more mundane than exciting. I’m thankful for your fire, your beauty, your bravado, your insecurities and the way you can light up a room with just an inflection. I’m thankful that my friends show a great affection for you. I’m thankful how your fierceness and vulnerabilities always seem to coexist at the same time. I’m thankful for simply having met you and being able to spend time with you because at it’s core, that’s all you could ever ask from someone, to be able to share just a little bit of their life and for that, I’m thankful.
I’m still not wholly convinced there is a meaningful endgame to social media but I do think there are meaningful and worthwhile reasons to use social media and I’m thankful for all those reasons. I don’t know if social media needs to be used for more serious reasons or can it just be enjoyed for entertainment purposes? But, you can’t dispute that, more and more every day that it’s becoming the preferred means of communication and maybe human interaction for a large swath of the population. It almost seems like you need a guide for social media accounts just like there’s a guide for almost everything else. Ironically enough, it’s been also a year since I put together my list of accounts to follow in Baltimore. Stay tuned to this space.