The Maybe Baby newsletter: the Cadence edit

Newsletter Challenge, v. 7

Quick note: I recently wrapped up a writing coach arrangement with Ari Lewis, host of the Mastering the Attention Economy podcast. We enjoyed working together (see Ari’s ROI here), and he proposed I take on a newsletter editing challenge.

The challenge: Twenty edits by 22 September.

My primary goal: add clarity, concision, and cadence to the newsletters, and sharpen up my own method.

For details on my process, click here, a Google doc. Leave suggestions as you see fit. Thanks!

“Who are you online?,” Aug 23

@ https://haleynahman.substack.com/p/20-who-are-you-online, by Haley Nahman

Between the “~~~~~~~~”:

–Grey typeface: Haley.

Normal typeface: me.

Key metrics (original -> edit)
–reading level: 8 -> 7.
–median sentence length: 17 -> 14 words.
–sentence length, standard deviation (basically, a measure of the variety of sentence lengths): 11 -> 11.


“Who are you … “: the Cadence edit

August 23, 2020

Why hello,

Today marks my 20th Maybe Baby newsletter. That feels like nothing and also something! For my 21st I promise to get drunk. Today I’m writing about who we are online, and the difference between habitual deleters and those who let it all hang out. Which are you? Let me know in the comments. Also please enjoy some of my old Instagrams, sprinkled throughout for posterity and starting with the first selfie I ever posted:

C’mere weekendddd!!!

Why hello,

Today marks my 20th Maybe Baby newsletter. That feels like nothing and also something! For my 21st I promise to get drunk. Today I’m writing about who we are online, and the difference between habitual curators and folks who let it all hang out.

Which one are you? Let me know in the comments.

Also please enjoy some of my old Instagrams, sprinkled throughout for posterity and starting with the first selfie I ever posted …

~~~~~~~

Pulling levers

I’ve gotten into the bad habit of deleting Instagram Stories after I post them. Three from recent memory: A flash of me lifting my shirt up to reveal a ridiculous banana bikini. A video of me dancing alone in my apartment to a pop song, muted and scored with classical music to make me look like someone who died 50 years ago. A series of memes wherein I overlaid photos of animals with text that indicated I hated the internet. All equally stupid. None remotely useful. Delete delete delete!

I’ve recently developed the habit of deleting my Instagram Stories, including:  

–me lifting my shirt up to reveal a ridiculous banana bikini

–me dancing alone in my apartment to a pop song, muted and scored with classical music, and

–a series of memes wherein I overlaid photos of animals with text that indicated I hated the internet.

All equally stupid. None remotely useful. Delete delete delete!

~~~~~~~

I never used to do this. I’ve historically seen deleting as a kind of failure—at being authentic, maybe, or at least being consistent enough to not renege on a decision you’ve ostensibly made of sound mind. I’ve only ever archived three Instagram photos from my feed because I felt they were misunderstood. I’m pretty sure this places me squarely in the millennial generation, known to hoard our internet output as if it were a time capsule, compared to our younger counterparts, known for whittling their accounts down to only the most relevant information. One of my distant cousins only ever has between 10 and 20 photos on her Instagram feed, which change regularly. I’m sure the real shit is elsewhere, hidden from nosy people like me. My feed, meanwhile, has 1,216 posts dating back to 2011.

I never used to do this. I’ve long regarded deleting as a failure of authenticity, maybe, or a failure to honor a decision you’ve ostensibly made of sound mind. I’ve only ever archived three — yes, three — Instagram photos from my feed because the feedback indicated they were misunderstood. This ethos places me squarely among the millennials of Gen Y, which hoards its internet output as if it were a time capsule, rather than Gen Z, which whittles their accounts down to the most relevant information. One of my distant cousins maintains 10 to 20 photos on her Instagram feed, and they change regularly. I figure the real shit is elsewhere, hidden from nosy people like me. My feed, meanwhile, has 1,216 posts dating back to 2011.

~~~~~~~

A few eras of my internet life are gone. My old Myspace account, decorated with embarrassing photoshops; an old Tumblr I panic-deleted when I was 19. But most of it is out there—old blogs, try-hard posts, bad writing—even if I’d never willingly guide someone to it. Something about this feels right to me. As if by refusing to hide my former self I am standing by my right to publicly evolve, and by extension am preserving the right for others. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. On a creative level, I love reading undercooked writing from writers I now think are brilliant. It gives me hope to bear witness to the arc, rather than just hear about it once it’s been mythologized in an interview about The Creative Process. Real canon is more inspiring, and I appreciate people brave enough to leave their early work up. Not sure it makes sense to apply this moral framework to my “work” from 2012, but that’s what I’ve done.

Still, a few eras of my internet life are gone. The two big ones include my Myspace account, decorated with embarrassing photoshops, and a Tumblr account I had when I was 19 and panic deleted. Otherwise, it’s out there: old blogs, try-hard posts, bad writing—the kinda stuff I’d never willingly guide someone to. Something about this feels right to me. By refusing to hide my former self, I stand by my right to publicly evolve and, by extension, preserve that right for others, too. Or at least that’s what I tell myself. On a creative level, I love reading the early, undercooked work of writers I now consider brilliant.

Rather than hear about how the writer represents that arc in The Creative Process, I want to bear witness to the arc. The Real Canon is a source of inspiration. I really appreciate people brave enough to leave their early work up. Not sure it makes sense to apply this moral framework to my “work” from 2012, but it’s right there where I left it.

~~~~~~~

Thus, my rule has been: don’t delete. Live with our stupid internet choices like we live with any choice we’ve made in our lives, whether it’s an outfit we wore or a thing we said or a place we went. So maybe we wouldn’t do the same thing now, but that’s just how life works, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t we be allowed to disagree with our former selves? In fact, wouldn’t it be an issue if we didn’t?

My rule, then: don’t delete. Let’s live with our stupid internet choices like we other choices, from an embarrassing outfit, a too-aggressive comment or a place we used to go. So maybe we wouldn’t do the same thing now, but that’s just how life works, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t we be allowed to disagree with our former selves? In fact, wouldn’t it be an issue if we didn’t?

~~~~~~~

The problem with thinking this way is it implies a stronger parallel between online and offline life than actually exists. No matter how stubborn I am about “embracing the arc,” I can’t deny that the internet registers as far more flat. We may be able to understand, intellectually, that a stupid joke was posted 10 years ago, when “Tik Tok” was a #1 song and everyone was blowing their load for Avatar—the timestamp says as much. But on Twitter the joke is clear as day, next to the person’s current photo and handle as if it were said just now. It feels current. In real life our memories can’t recall 10-year-old offhand comments with such clarity—we’ve forgotten or overwritten the information with new context and data. We understand that a lot of time has passed because we lived through it. Online those barriers don’t exist; your identity is divorced from linear time. It is a readily available mosaic of everything you’ve ever done.

There’s one problem with this way of thinking: it depends upon a stronger parallel between our lives online and offline than actually exists. No matter how stubborn I am about “embracing the arc,” I can’t deny that, on the internet, that arc appears far more flat. We may be able to understand, intellectually, that a stupid joke was posted 10 years ago, when “Tik Tok” was a #1 song and everyone was blowing their load for Avatar—the timestamp says as much. But on Twitter, that decade-old joke appears next to your current photo and handle, as if today’s you said it just now. It feels current. In real life, we can’t recall 10-year-old offhand comments with such clarity—we’ve forgotten that stuff, and mercifully so. We understand that time has passed because we lived through it. Your online identity is divorced from linear time. You are a readily assembled mosaic of everything you’ve ever done.

~~~~~~~

Maybe, then, Gen-Z—or however you’d define the now-cross-generational population of people who hyper-curate their feeds—has it right. The way they approach content is in better harmony with how it’s interpreted: as an upload of who you are, timestamp-agnostic. Why not delete everything you don’t currently stand by if that’s how it will be understood by others? Obviously this is the appeal of Snapchat and Instagram Stories; they self-destruct, thus saving you the trouble. The journalist and prolific tweeter Elizabeth Bruenig has a bot that deletes all her tweets after two weeks. When I first heard that, the digital hoarder in me was horrified. Didn’t she want a record of what she’d said, conversations she’d had, articles she’d posted? But the more I thought about it, the more I got it. The trend of disappearing content is a response to the fact that the internet is functionally similar to a printing press, providing ideas with a permanent home, while being used more like a casual, everyday forum. The utility and its medium are incongruent, and manufactured ephemerality is trying to address that.

Maybe, then, the hyper-curators of Gen-Z have it right. Gen-Zers regard their content in a much more harmonious way with how it’s interpreted: as an upload of who you are, timestamp-agnostic, since that’s how you’re bound to be understood by others. Hence the appeal of Snapchat and Instagram Stories: they self-destruct, and save you the trouble. The super-tweeting journalist Elizabeth Bruenig has a bot that deletes all her tweets after two weeks. When I first heard this story, the digital hoarder in me was horrified. Didn’t she want a record of her comments, her conversations, and the articles she posted? But the more I think about it, the more I get it. The trend of disappearing content is a response to the fact that the internet is functionally similar to a self-archiving printing press. It typesets ideas and provides them with a permanent home.  It’s primary use, though, is like the table of communal magazines at a coffee shop, where things are regularly tossed into the dustbin of history, as they say. The medium and its utility are incongruent, and the trend toward manufactured ephemerality is a logical way to address that.

~~~~~~~

Still, I resist it. I don’t want everything online to self-destruct. I don’t like that the most impulsive content is now gone in 24 hours, and I resent that this has imbued anything posted to the feed with an air of importance—or more accurately, performance. I’ve never really wanted my internet presence to “represent” me like a one-sheeter on who I am. I find that stressful. As an increasing number of my followers are strangers to me, it’s made me more aware of the gap that exists between who I am online—much softer, less goofy, more careful—than I am offline. It’s as if I’m a muted version of myself in 2D, so self-conscious and censored. That’s the insecurity that drove me to post those three stories I ended up deleting; I hoped they might show a looser side of me, and then I became certain, ironically, that they felt forced. There are some things we simply can’t transmit digitally—how we behave in conversation, how much we roll our eyes, the way our faces move, how we dance in a crowd. All the visceral information that fills out a person.

Still, I resist it. I don’t want everything online to self-destruct. I don’t like that the most impulsive content is now gone in 24 hours, and I resent that this trend has imbued anything posted to my feed with an air of importance—or, more accurately, performance. I never wanted my internet presence to “represent” me like a one-sheeter. That’s too stressful. An increasing percentage of my followers are bound to be strangers, and that fact’s made me more aware of the gap that exists between who I am online—much softer, less goofy, more careful—and who I am offline. It’s as if I’m a muted version of myself in 2D, self-conscious and self-censoring. That insecurity drove me to post the three stories I ended up deleting. I wanted those posts to show a looser side of me and, once I saw them online, I became certain, alas, that they felt forced.

There are some things we simply can’t transmit digitally.

How we behave in conversation, and the way we roll our eyes.

The way our faces move, and the way we dance in a crowd.

All the visceral information — nay, the viscera itself. Our flesh. Our blood. What it feels like when we touch.

~~~~~~~

Our accounts are meant to reflect us, but posting is an entirely different form of expression, bringing out different sides of different people. In some ways you can do so much more to express yourself online than you can in person, and in others ways, so much less. And as much as we’re aware of the gap that exists within ourselves, it’s easy to forget to appreciate it in others. It’s the digital equivalent of: “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior.” I know that you can’t really understand me based on my Instagram, we might think, but I completely understand you based on yours. I’m sure my increasing focus on this has come with developing a following, but I also think it’s increased for everyone as the venn diagram of “presumed identity” and “online presence” has moved closer to a circle. And especially as the stakes of who we are online have been raised by our inability to interact in person.

Our accounts reflect who we are, but in a fun mirror sorta way. Posting is a form of expression unto itself, and it brings out different sides of different people. In some ways you can do so much more to express yourself online than you can in person. In other ways, it’s so much less. And as much as we’re aware of the gap that exists within ourselves, it’s easy to forget to recognize that gap with others. It’s the digital equivalent of: “We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behavior.” I know that you can’t really understand me based on my Instagram, but I’m certain I completely understand you based on yours. I’m sure my increased focus on this has come with developing a following, but I also think it’s increased for everyone. The Venn diagram categories of “presumed identity” and “online presence” appears to be nearly a unified circle. And, our inability to interact in person, to remind others of our visceral selves, has raised the stakes of curating our online personae.

~~~~~~~

In this way I guess I don’t really disagree with hyper-curators; we’re merely responding to the same insufficiency in different ways. I’d imagine most people don’t really want to be summed up by their shitposts. If the original promise of the internet was to connect us to more people, the challenge now is to remember it can only do that to an extent, or through a very particular type of lens. I’ll never forget interviewing a communication scholar years ago who told me that humans evolved to communicate and cooperate in person using not just words, but tone, context, and body language. She explained that when phones were invented, there was a barrier to understanding because facial expressions were lost, and when email became a primary mode of connection, tone was lost, and when talking to strangers online became the status quo, context was lost. Our tools have evolved faster than our biology. In other words, we are not ready. (Weird, because honestly things seem to be working out!)

So, I suppose I actually agree with the hyper-curators. We’re merely responding in different ways to the gap between the real and the representation. I imagine most people don’t really want to be summed up by their shitposts. If the original promise of the internet was to connect us to more people, the challenge now is to understand the limits of those connections, or to recognize how the impact of a particular lens on those connections. . I’ll never forget interviewing a communication scholar years ago who told me that humans evolved to communicate and cooperate in person using not just words, but tone, context, and body language. She explained that when phones were invented, there was a barrier to understanding was built in, because facial expressions were lost. When email became a primary mode of connection, that barrier shifted, as tone, volume, and timbre were lost. When talking to strangers online via new video platforms, the old barriers were reduced, but context was lost. Our tools have evolved faster than our biology and raises a key question for pandemic times: how ready are we, for any of this? (Part of me thinks, yeah, sure, as things seem to be working out. Another part of me, well … )

~~~~~~~

Anyway, it’s easy to shrug off social media anxiety as silly, or to assume that worrying about how we’re coming off online makes us vapid—and there is something undeniably narcissistic about it—but social belonging is at the center of society, and has been since the beginning of it. Humans fear ostracism more than death. Whether we’re extremely online or not, we’re making a choice about how we participate in modern life that has real social implications. The pandemic has of course brought this into sharper relief, with our sloppy way of digital cooperation bringing about meaningful political movements as much as mass conflict. I’m still convinced we’d all fight way less in real life. The question is how do we adapt to the fact that the internet isn’t a digital reflection of the physical world but a paradigm shift away from it? I don’t think my hope that we’ll start giving each other the benefit of the doubt is remotely realistic (lol), nor do I find it existentially satisfying to edit ourselves into oblivion. What do you think is the solution?

It will be fascinating to see how the internet evolves, and a miracle if it even manages to before we light the whole thing on fire. Anyone’s guess as to which comes first.

Anyway, it’s easy to shrug off social media anxiety as silly, or to assume that worrying about how we present ourselves online makes us vapid. Sure, there is something undeniably narcissistic about it. And yet: we crave belonging We’re social creatures, with IRL needs. Humans fear ostracism more than death. (It’s scientifically confirmed here. For most species, ostracism is social death.) Whether we’re fully digital or mostly analog, we choose how we participate in modern life, and that choice has real social implications. The pandemic has of course brought this into sharper relief, with our sloppy modes of digital cooperation producing meaningful political movements as well as mass conflict. I’m still convinced we’d all fight way less in real life. (Anyone can pick a fight on Twitter.)

For me, here’s the key question: how do we respond to the fact that the internet isn’t a digital reflection of the physical world but a paradigm shift away from it? Can you imagine that it’s remotely (lol) realistic to hope that we’ll drum up the generosity to see “the Real Canon” online and give each other the benefit of the doubt? And, if not, is it either sustainable or existentially satisfying to repeatedly edit ourselves into oblivion?

What do you think is the solution?

It will be fascinating to see how the internet and humans co-evolve. It may be a miracle if web 3.0 emerges before we light the whole thing on fire. Which comes first is anyone’s guess.

# # #

And that’s a wrap. If you like what you see, drop me a line over here.

Thanks!

Happy writing!

Published by Randal Doane

Living the good life in NE Ohio. I dig science and the written word. Let's build something amazing together.

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