A friend recently asked me about my activities on social media in general and Facebook in particular. Specifically, he asked me why I post and comment in the way that I do. If you're unfamiliar, he described it as "schizophrenic." [note - it's actually more "dissociative identity disorder-ish, but that's neither here nor there] Basically my activity falls into one of about four categories:
- "Normal" posts about my family or daily life
- Posts intended to inspire or pay tribute to people or institutions I respect
- Things that amuse me in some way
- Posts that are intended to learn about human behavior
The first three are pretty standard, but the last one is what results in the "what the fuck is wrong with you???" sentiment I get from people that don't actually know me well in real life. These types of activities usually involve posting about a news story or issue, then inciting debate and arguments. I rarely if ever voice my true opinion. Instead, I post things that will elicit a reaction which often means taking a stance that's completely the opposite of what I really believe. And it drives a lot of people crazy.
"Why Do You Do This?!?"
First - a short back story. When I was growing up, I went through different phases of what I thought I wanted to do in my life. I wanted to be an astronaut, professional baseball player, punter (for pro football), a business manager, a marketer, and a woodworker. In college I earned an Associate's degree in business, then decided to switch gears to become a history teacher. I really wanted to coach football and teaching was the best conduit. Before graduating, I discovered and fell in love with psychology and added another year to my undergrad studies. Upon graduation, I applied for teaching jobs and grad schools with the goal of either becoming an experimental social psychologist or a high school history teacher. Serendipity came knocking and I landed a job teaching high school psychology. As a bonus, I also got to coach my beloved football. For a few years, I was in my element. Eventually the realities of being a public school teacher set in (administration, parents, paperwork, grading, No Child Left Behind, friction between our union and administration, lack of public support, etc.) made the job unbearable. I had an opportunity to travel the country teaching about barefoot running, so I took it. When that adventure ran it's course, I settled into my current "occupation" as a writer.
All of these experiences taught me an important lesson - I have two intense passions in my life: Teaching, and studying human behavior. For a while, these two passions aligned perfectly in my high school psychology gig. Since then, I've played the two off each other in various ways such as barefoot running, ultrarunning, and sex and relationships.
The point to this trip down memory lane - the reason I do the things I do on social media is to learn about people. Specifically, what leads people to do the things they do, believe the things they believe, and most importantly, how they adapt to change. I'm more interested in how and why people react and respond than what they react and respond with. I don't care about other people's opinions as much as I care about how they developed those opinions. This also gives me insight to my own thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. I'm as fascinated with my own inner workings as much as I am fascinated by other people's inner workings.
I can then use this insight to human behavior to leverage my other passion - teaching. A key element to teaching is tailoring the pedagogy (the methods and practices of teaching) to individuals. That requires the teacher to understand the student. The greater that depth of understanding, the better-matched methodology that can be utilized.
THAT is the reason I do what I do on Facebook. I occasionally frame my social media antics in that way, but most of the time I write it off as "entertainment." That works because the exchanges are almost always amusing, at least to a certain niche of friends.
My long-time friends just roll with it, but I sometimes run into issues with brand-new friends or, more likely, friends of friends. They'll engage in arguments with me to try to prove why they're right and I'm wrong, then get pissed when I dance around the topic. They don't get that my refusal to engage is a calculated attempt to get them to reveal the motives behind their passionate stance on seemingly inconsequential issues that do not affect their day-to-day lives.
Even some of my go-to antagonist topics fit that bill. Yes, that means I really don't care if people are vegans, vaccinate their children, engage in helicopter parent behaviors, or believe in psychics. I have a few issues and causes I feel strongly about, but not strongly enough to keep me from using them as social media debate fodder. My self-run social experimentation is more important than advocating for this or that, mostly because I understand that social media rants are piss-poor pedagogy.
Why Not Just Become a Researcher?
Many people, especially those employed in research capacities or studying to be researchers, question the validity of my "experimentation." Having been trained as a researcher, I'm acutely aware of the limitations of social science research. It's slow and expensive, and it can take years to collect enough data to develop a consensus on any given hypothesis. There's a reason we don't have any "laws" related to human behavior.
I prefer the practical. Not only does it provide more immediate satisfaction, it's good enough to fuel that need to understand my potential students. The Barefoot Running Book and Never Wipe Your Ass with a Squirrel would not have been so successful without a deep understanding of how my audience thinks and learns. This is also the reason my "traditionally published" version of The Barefoot Running Book and The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running and Ultramarathons have not done as well... my editors neutered my voice to the point where it no longer resonates with my audience.
So there you go - I use social media as my sociopsychological sandbox to help me learn about people to help make me a more effective teacher. Keeping with that theme, I'm curious how other people would describe their social media activity. Tell me your story in the comments!