Social media is not a masquerade ball where guests are expected to conceal their appearance from each other. Social media is more like a cocktail party, where most of the signals that guide us toward potentially intriguing strangers and conversations are visual. Faces, expressions, clothing, gestures, mannerisms, body language, movement: From across the crowded room of a social gathering, these offer practical indicators that are not as superficial as they might at first appear. Blended with our experience and outlook, they trigger a sophisticated filtering system that, speedier than any computer, picks out the people we might want to talk to and those it would be best to avoid.
Is it foolproof? Of course not. Does it produce false negatives as well as false positives? Absolutely. Could we manage effectively without it? Not likely. In fact, it probably dates back to our cave-dweller past — a primal way of gauging the safety of an alien encounter.
These days, safety is a lesser (though not entirely absent) concern. From the moment we open our eyes each morning until we shut them sixteen or seventeen hours later, we are bombarded with nonstop visual and emotional stimuli, many of which require split-second choices and decisions. In order to make those choices and decisions, we must use all the cues and clues at our disposal.
Beyond that, it’s human nature to want to see who we’re talking to. Even pen pals, in those not-so-long-ago days before personal computers, would ultimately trade photographs.
Imagine yourself at a cocktail party or other social function. How likely are you to walk up to someone whose face is always averted, who skulks in dark corners or who otherwise seems reluctant to be seen? How likely is it that someone will strike up a conversation with you if you are the one lurking in the shadows?
If you want both you and your book to be noticed online — and why are you on social media otherwise? — it is vital that you let yourself be seen. If you want others to engage with you, it is essential that you let people see with whom they are engaging. And just like at our cocktail party, first impressions matter.
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