Be Your Boring Self

In rapid succession yesterday, Twitter threw me two how-to-behave-online links that kind of rubbed me the wrong way. The first was a widely re-shared essay titled You Are Boring:

You listen to the same five podcasts and read the same seven blogs as all your pals. You stay up late on Twitter making hashtagged jokes about the event that everyone has decided will be the event about which everyone jokes today. You love to send withering @ messages to people like Rush Limbaugh—of course, those notes are not meant for their ostensible recipients, but for your friends, who will chuckle and retweet your savage wit.

You are boring. So, so boring.

Because, of course, there's nothing more staggeringly original than telling other people how much they bore you...

That's a little unfair, and the advice it goes on to give about how to be more interesting is perfectly fine, as such things go: listen more, tell interesting stories, try new things. But the framing of it bugs me, particularly in the example given for the "listen more" part of the advice:

I’d be down in the smoking car, listening to two people have a conversation that went like this:

Stranger #1: Thing about my life.

Stranger #2: Thing about my life that is somewhat related to what you just said.

Stranger #1: Thing about my life that is somewhat related to what you just said.

Stranger#2: Thing about my life…

Next stop: Boringsville, Population: 2.

When I read that, my immediate thought was: Who gives a shit? I mean, really, why do you care what two total strangers are talking about? If it helps them pass the time, what does it matter to you?

And that's really my problem with the whole thing: Yeah, fine, people post lots of boring stuff to social media networks. God knows, I see the same dumb re-shared images cross my Facebook feed thirty times each, and most of them weren't all that amusing the first time around.

But you know what? If it makes the people posting those images happy, who am I to shit all over that. Yeah, I may be too cool for the latest stupid meme-of-the-moment, but so what? It's not like it's taking all that much of my time, and if it is taking too much time, even Facebook makes it fairly easy to screen people out of my feed. Presumably somebody finds all this stuff interesting, or it wouldn't be re-shared fifty bazillion times.

Now, I'd be really happy if people were a little less credulous about the dumb shit they fall for and repost-- the "Bet you can't name a city in Florida without the letter 'E'" is so transparently stupid it has to be a scam, even if I can't quite see what the money-making angle is. (Yes, I know I could Google it and find out, but I just don't care that much.) But that's less to do with them boring me than it is a desire to have a less credulous citizenry as a general matter. If people wised up enough to not fall for stupid re-shared fishing scams, then we could maybe make some progress on getting them to not fall for anti-vaccine scaremongering or homeopathy, or any of a host of other actively harmful dumb ideas.

The other advice item bears the title Don't hide your online self when applying for college or career, and I had hopes that this was going to be something actually interesting. Instead, it deserves some sort of award for irony in headline writing, because its advice can be boiled down to: Use your social media outlets to craft a carefully constructed false image to present to colleges and employers.

And, again, there's nothing all that wrong about the general advice: you should absolutely try to avoid posting drunken naked pictures of yourself and your friends. But, you know, my preferred method of achieving that goal would be by not being the kind of asshole who thinks it's a good idea to post drunken naked pictures of yourself and your friends, rather than by carefully screening them to locked groups or whatever. And, you know, if you are that kind of asshole, I'd sort of prefer that you did post the drunken naked pictures, so as to give the rest of us fair warning.

The advice that's given, and the way it's presented is basically just a call for creating bland and characterless social media profiles as a front to present to colleges and employers. Which sort of defeats the whole purpose of social media, which is to inject a little personality into online interactions. Not only does this leech personality out of everything, it implicitly endorses the idea that it's appropriate for colleges and employers to consider what you do in your off hours when making admissions and hiring decisions. And really, that concept is way more pernicious than anything that dumb teenagers are likely to get up to with Facebook.

So, my counter-advice is this: Be yourself. With the caveat that, again, you should try not to be an asshole-- but don't do it because being an asshole might cost you a job or a college spot, but rather because being an asshole is a Bad Thing and ought to be avoided. Share stuff that reflects your personality and sense of humor, without worrying about what personnel offices and smug tech writers might think. Use social media platforms to be social not to demonstrate your willingness to conform to some bland and characterless model in hopes of gaining some insignificant economic advantage.

Even if you're an asshole. Even if you're boring-- get out there and own your boringness. And when some smug asshole asks you about it, ask back "Why do you give a shit, anyway?"

More like this

I actually had to look up whether Miami is in Florida --permission to rant about uneducated Europeans-- but then I don't do Facebook, so didn't see it earlier.

That said, I once got a job by telling people to read my blog, not my CV.

Stranger #1: Thing about my life.
Stranger #2: Thing about my life that is somewhat related to what you just said.

That's said like it's a bad thing to be talking with someone about your life. Yes, they're strangers, and you don't care about the personal lives of strangers, but - and here's the important bit - the two people who are having the conversation aren't strangers to *each other*. Having a conversation with friends/family/etc. about the things in your life is normal and necessary. It's how interpersonal bonds are made. If all people talked about were profound and weighty non-personal matters, there would be practically nothing to talk about. The personal lives of your friends and family aren't boring because you care about those people.

I think the issue is that the people posting these sorts of things are slightly selfish in their perspective. It's not "you are boring", but "you are boring *me*". -- *I* don't care about your personal life. *I*'m tired of that meme. *I* don't want to see another repost of that blog article that *I*'ve already read, or that webcomic *I* think is stupid. By posting what you're posting, you're failing in your primary purpose: to make the world interesting to *me*. - I don't care that *you* think it's interesting, or that *your* pals appreciate it, or *your* friends and family want to hear about your personal life. *I*'m overhearing it, so *I*'m the one who should be entertained.

“Bet you can’t name a city in Florida without the letter ‘E’”


Without trying very hard, and without Googling: Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Ocala, Sarasota, Sanford, Appalachicola. I could come up with at least a dozen more if I put some effort into it. But I have the unfair advantage of having grown up in the state. Even so, the first three on that list are cities which pretty much every adult American should have heard of (and my spelling checker only complains about the last). So I would consider this evidence of rank stupidity (and yes, having much less of this on the internet would be a Good Thing) rather than boringness per se.

As to the second point: I have mentioned before that I do field interviews of people applying to my undergraduate alma mater. I don't look at their Facebook pages or Twitter feeds (neither of these things have crossed my personal threshold of "the benefits of having it outweigh the disadvantages of not having it", so my policy is not specifically aimed at applicants). But the mothership tells me that they are looking for applicants that stand out from the crowd (which is necessary given the ratio of applicants to available spaces). So "be yourself, unless you are an asshole" is good advice here.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 04 Mar 2013 #permalink

Thank you, Chad.

I think the issue is that the people posting these sorts of things are slightly selfish in their perspective. It’s not “you are boring”, but “you are boring *me*”. — *I* don’t care about your personal life. *I*’m tired of that meme. *I* don’t want to see another repost of that blog article that *I*’ve already read, or that webcomic *I* think is stupid.

The other oversight in this that I would've included had I had more time free this morning to devote to it is that just because you're in someone's social-media contacts doesn't mean that they're sharing something for you. You can be (and in many cases likely are) sort of a side effect of them sharing something that's mostly meant for another group. Lots of people I know post pictures of their kids not so much because they want me to see them, but because they want their extended family on the far side of the country to see them.

Similarly, a lot of the repeated re-shares of dumb memes are because while it's been around a zillion times in my close contacts doesn't mean it's been seen by the close friends of people who are sort of peripheral to my social networks. The umpteenth re-share of whatever thing George Takei is posting today isn't coming around because that person is a mindless sheep who must re-share the same thing that all their friends have. It's coming around again because the person re-sharing it doesn't actually follow all the same people I do, and hasn't seen it before. And some of their friends won't have seen it, either.

So, as long as they're not scams or multiply-debunked political lies, I've trained myself to basically shrug off the umpteenth re-share of the same dumb photo with words on it. It's making the person who re-shared it happy, and probably some of their friends haven't seen it, so it's all good. Something new will be along in a few minutes.

Any time you see something on Facebook that you just have to click on because it is so dang obvious, remember that clicking on it will add you -- and potentially all your friends -- to a list for further exploitation. (Even just a list of people who click on random stuff is useful to marketeers and more nefarious sorts.)

By weirdnoise (not verified) on 04 Mar 2013 #permalink

There are at least two (subjective) benefits to being boring on social media; perhaps the audience knows of dozens more. But these are the two most relevant to my social circle so here goes:

1. A close friend uses the signal-to-noise approach to social media, by sharing multiple informative and at least moderately funny links every day. His goal, in addition to hopefully amusing or educating at least one friend, is to drown out the actual information that might leak through, such as, "I'm not at home please break and enter." I'm not convinced this is either effective or wise, but hey, it's his FB/Twitter so i really have no vote!

2. My true friends know i'm exactly as interesting as i am. If i am boring to strangers or people i don't particularly care for, perhaps they'll leave me alone! I expect that sounds slightly misanthropic but privacy means different things to each person, and this is how i achieve my specific comfort level.

Stranger #1: Thing about my life.
Stranger #2: Thing about my life that is somewhat related to what you just said.
Stranger #1: Thing about my life that is somewhat related to what you just said.
Stranger#2: Thing about my life…
Next stop: Boringsville, Population: 2.

This is why I always randomly sprinkle my conversations with "I can't believe that asshole is blatantly listening in on our conversation." Keeps 'em honest and, let's face it, it entertains them by bringing them into the conversation.

At risk of seeming frivolous, I would offer that Sturgeon's Rule applies. As correlary, everyone is boring 0.9 of the time, and is always boring to 0.9 of the population.
Also, a Hellerism: everyone who complains someone else is boring is boring.

By Bruce W. Fowler (not verified) on 05 Mar 2013 #permalink