‘If you could choose,’ I said to the Handsome Sidekick one day, a few months ago, ‘would you rather receive recognition from your peers, or from the general public? Bearing in mind that the recognition from your peers might mean that you earn less money, than if you were to become famous in a mainstream sense.’
He thought for a while.
‘I guess… my peers?’ he said. ‘I mean, sure, it would be great to have both. But I suppose I’d rather have people who I know really value this stuff, also think that my stuff is good.’
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Me too, I think.’
Of course, neither of us is in the position where we have to worry about choosing between the respect and admiration of our peers or our fans! But I have been thinking a lot about recognition lately, for a few reasons.
The first is that I’ve just finishing proofreading a PhD thesis where the author wrote about the way recognition in the workplace can be used as coercion, as a means of management. As is always the case when I edit something I’ve not written, it was fascinating, and I learnt a lot. I wondered what are our expectations of thanking people, and what we expect in a ‘thank you’ when we do something which is worthy of recognition? As with anything like this, if you think about it too long, you start to question every little interaction, and the way we use ‘scripts’ and learnt behaviour makes one wonder if everything we do and say is contrived and nothing can possibly be spontaneous or genuine (my conclusion: in a way, it’s both, which makes neither one ‘bad’, rather they are simply the way we interact as humans).
Then I was talking to a friend about her work, and how, while it was stressful, she appreciated the recognition she received at work. ‘At work, I’ll get people telling me that I did something well, or thanking me for something I did,’ she said. ‘At home, there’s nobody telling me ‘Wow, that was a really great meal, Mum! Great job!’ And so work, even if it’s stressful, is good in that way.’
I understand that. There is a sense of being taken for granted by those closest to us, especially if we’re a constant in their lives, and we relate differently to those with whom we work, compared to those with whom we live (especially if we’re related to them).
Those two experiences were in the back of my mind when I received an email from Twitter recently, congratulating me on getting 300 followers. I always find these kinds of auto-responses from social media groups amusing, because it’s not as if I’m working on trying to ‘grow my brand’ on social media, and I gain and lose followers all the time (I noticed that I then dropped below 300 and went above it again, and didn’t receive another congratulatory email from Twitter! What’s that all about?!) I find Twitter in particular to be a very superficial, fleeting kind of interaction. There are certainly times when I’ve connected with people on there, and had some interesting conversations, but for the most part, it is sharing information quickly. Deeper relationships don’t seem to happen as often as they do on other social media platforms (or at least, they don’t for me).
Previously, I always believed that Twitter, like Tumblr, and I suppose to some extent Facebook and other social media, seemed to be based on a kind of narcissism. We want the world to notice us and our uniqueness, because now that our world has expanded, we struggle to maintain that sense of importance. But in light of my musings on recognition and how we use scripts to perform social interactions, I think I might have been too judgemental about social media. I think what people are looking for is recognition: that they matter, that they’re important. Trying to find a niche in which they fit, and others to fit in there with them. I’m often delighted and humbled with the way in which people I don’t know are willing to engage with me and share humour, discuss an issue, or share advice. It’s a very human thing, to connect in this way–it even happens to us in ‘real’ life: a passing comment on the bus, or at the supermarket; small talk with someone in a bookshop, or at a sporting event.
What happens when that doesn’t go as planned, though? If, as the Handsome Sidekick and I imagine, we’d prefer to receive recognition from our ‘peers’ or those who understand and respect us, what happens if those peers (and the recognition) are lacking? Sometimes I engage with people online and receive nothing in response, and as much as I can shrug and choose to hang around with the posse I’ve constructed (both on- and offline), there is a sense of missed connections, of a lack of recognition. Are we asking too much from internet relationships?
It could be that what is really happening is that the script is changing, and quickly. There are those of us who can keep up, and those of us who can’t. Given that recognition–from our peers, from our friends, or from our ‘fans’, depending on your situation–is an essential part of determining our place in the world and our sense of worth, what is that doing to us? What is it doing to how we relate to people?
I’m asking more questions here than I’m answering, I know. But it’s an issue I think is only going to be more relevant, as ever more of our interactions move to the virtual sphere. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this, as well. Do you find your internet interactions fulfilling? Or do you sometimes find that you are the one who is missing the script, and it’s everyone else, who knows what to say?