Bragging rights. The musician in social networks.
There seems to be a new trend among my friends – one by one they declare to have enough of social media and the internet and drop out of Facebook, Twitter, google + and the like. And a growing frustration with the internet seems to be an ongoing topic in conversations.
One of the main reasons given for leaving Facebook is to find it increasingly annoying to read success story after success story from friends, which is often at odds with one’s own personal situation. Many of my friends are freelance musicians. Some get by better than others, but even if they fare well they will have – as anyone will know who ever worked freelance – longish stretches of time where nothing much is going on except waiting for the next gig or commission which might or might not come along. In this situation I can understand that it feels weird to be bombarded with countless messages like „wow – fantastic performance of my 18th symphony with the New York Phil! They rule!“ or „Here’s a pic of me as a winner of the Tchaikovsky prize – I’m so happy! Please *like* and *share*, yippeee!“ or „I just got this 2 year scholarship in this beautiful castle in the South of France – I think I will like it very much and drink the best wine there is“.
Indeed I have many friends on Facebook who just love to document their success stories. Every concert is „just fantastic“, „awesome“, or „the best“. There are endless photographs with them parading around landmarks of famous foreign cities, often arm in arm with other equally succesful and happy colleagues. Everybody is smiling. Everybody is beautiful. „We had such a great dress rehearsal – the performance will blow everybody away“. Luscious meal after luscious meal is documented, concert hall after concert hall, airport after airport. There seems to be an ongoing competition about who is having the greatest time. I know composers who tweet every day how many seconds they have finished of their new piece, who announce every new commission they get. There never is any doubt, never any crisis. Everybody is having the time of their lives. „Ist alles so schön bunt hier“ (Nina Hagen).
Of course we all know, that all this is too good be true. But rarely do we read about the frustrations, the loneliness, the jobs that go wrong, the failures, the embarassments. And the ones who are brave enough to talk about exactly this are quickly brandmarked as whiners or the get unfriended.
Many could explain the Facebook flight with simple envy, but I think it is a bit more subtle than that. I think the frustration stems from the fact that an artificial world is created, in a way a world which is exactly like we all might have imagined our future life as musicians when we were really young and naive and everything looked hopeful. Now the internet has empowered us to exactly create this world in pictures and other media, and we just throw ourselves at the chance to construct our own fantasy. But if we see it created by others it puts us under enormous pressure – is the own fantasy we live up to standard? Can it compete? In addition we are ourselves alone, but the constant news ticker of hundreds of friends make it seem like they are all having a constant ball with everything, even if each of them posts only once every couple of days. Only few of us are Hollywood stars who can tweet something spectacular every 2 minutes (and even they probably have something like a twitter or facebook exhaustion, but it’s their trade and they have no choice).
The shallowness of it all can sometimes be nervewracking. It’s the shallowness that is also present when you meet a not very good friend who you don’t know very well on the street, engaging in small talk. Would you tell this person about your deep personal problems or the frustrations of your job? Certainly not. In a way the creation of a fantasy world in which you are constantly fine and dandy (and especially successful) erects a wall against further probing which one might find inconvenient.
But there is also another, darker side. Basically it’s about success, nothing more. We are all scared that we will look as losers if we cannot keep up with everybody else, because being regarded as a loser might mean less jobs, less opportunities. It becomes a race of survival in a way.
Sometimes I wonder how troubled composers of earlier times would have fared in this age. Schumann for example was obsessed with putting his day activities down in his journal, describing in detail how often he had sex with Clara, what he ate, how long he slept, etc. In a way we can be thankful that we didn’t experience Schumann the tweeter, because this might taint our romanticized view of this undoubtedly great composer.
Others might have been funny or witty – we certainly would have enjoyed Facebook messages of composers like Max Reger or Frank Zappa, but they were both people whose private life remains something of a mystery because they were so engulfed in their work. Mozart might have been simply annoying. Beethoven would have sent pictures of broken pianos and new appartments. Debussy might have become an obsessive chatroom flirter. Stravinsky would have posted pictures of himself, doing naked bodybuilding at beautiful beaches. Strauss would have been addicted to online card games. The imagination actually runs wild when one imagines the modern activities of classical composers, banal as they would have been.
If one embraces the superficiality of all things Facebook I guess it can serve as a good enough medium to inform about certain things. I certainly enjoy the messages of friends who I see rarely or who live on the other side of the planet. I don’t mind seeing them patting their dogs or walking with their children. And there are sometimes interesting discussions about current events which can happen on a whim.
But we should not mistaken it for life itself. And as simple as this truth is – we sometimes should remind ourselves of it.