To the Graduating Class of 2023...
My social media commencement speech
I can’t help but feel like a chapter in the evolution of social media is drawing to a close.
Now, surely some of this feeling is a product of my changing perspective. I got my first social media account when I was 19 years old and signed up for MySpace in college; I turn 41 later this month, and it’d be foolish to pretend that more than two decades of maturation hasn’t altered my relationship with social media.
Still, there’s no denying that something has shifted.
Between the haphazard-yet-thorough disassembly of Twitter at the hands of Elon Musk, the driftless and flailing “metaverse” obsessions of Facebook, and the can’t-put-my-finger-on-it-but-something’s-not-right-here vibe of Instagram these days, it’s hard not to feel like we’re at the end of an era. Social media will evolve and persist, but the monoculture days of everyone hanging out in the same few places are winding down.
Like many, I feel a pang of loss for these spaces, spaces from which I’ve taken a lot in the past two decades.
But I’m not here to throw a funeral.
Instead, I view this as a sort of graduation.
Some of us are leaving, headed for new and hopefully exciting places. Others will hang around town for a while, clinging to a moment we’re not quite ready to admit has passed. Things may be better or worse; all we can be sure of is that they’ll be different.
If I can take this moment to imagine us all together in a crowd at some stadium or parade crowd, hungover and sunburnt in our caps and gowns, I’d like to relay a few things I’ve learned from this time we’ve spent together.
I’d like to give my social media graduation speech.
Say less. Some of the greatest, funniest, most memorable things I’ve ever seen on social media were only a few words long. Make your point as economically as possible.
Speak thoughtfully. You don’t know who is listening to you, and what impact a thoughtless or negative statement may have on them. You also don’t know when you’re going to accidentally coin a new term.
You are what you say, not what you say you are. The words coming out of your mouth or off of your keyboard say far more about you than the ones in your bio do, and if you ever have to issue a statement claiming “that’s not who I am”, I have some bad news for you. (Yeah, it is.)
Consider the possibility of other perspectives. You’ll be stunned at what you might learn if you’re just willing to listen and keep an open mind, and you might even make a friend or two along the way.
You are under no obligation to engage someone acting in bad faith on their terms.
Celebrities are just like us. (They’re bored and on their phones most of the time, too.)
To that end—money can buy lots of things, but money alone cannot make you the person you wish you were. (Not even 44 billion dollars of it.)
There is almost always someone smarter than you out there, and there is also someone much dumber than the both of you confidently explaining something in that person’s area of expertise to them right now. Seek out the former, and try not to be the latter.
You do not have to have an opinion on everything. Frankly, it feels great to sit one out from time to time.
One person having a ridiculous opinion does not necessarily indicate a meaningful trend or constituency, and you do not need to write an article about it. (This one’s just for political reporters.)
Punch up, not down, and don’t throw any punches you’re not willing to answer for if word gets back around.
If you plan to share a photograph, make sure you double-check what is in the background first. Someone is going to notice.
Have someone you can privately message your worst ideas to before rolling them out to the wider world. It’ll save you a lot of headaches.
Do not be shy about advocating for yourself and for your work. If you don’t believe in it, why should anyone else?
There may be people out there who think you’re a hack. There are also people who would give anything to do what you do.
You can ask for help. Whether that’s asking for a recommendation on the best sandwich in a new city, seeking non-binding legal advice on a property line dispute, or finding a kind ear when you need it most, you can ask for it. Chances are, you’ll find it.
Likes are free. It costs nothing to share your support, to brighten someone’s day and let them know you’re paying attention to them. It feels pretty good to do so, too.
Cats and dogs make everything better, even in the moments where they’re actively making things worse. (Those make for the best stories, frankly.)
Arguing about food is pointless, but it’s a heck of a lot better than arguing about pretty much anything else. Also, Pop-Tarts are empanadas, deep-dish pizza is soup, and Cincinnati chili is a form of gumbo.
Sometimes people are wrong, and there’s nothing you can do about it. (See item above.)
Know when to walk away. Your health and well-being matter more than winning an argument, and the argument will be there later if you want to come back to it.
Who you spend time with and who you spend your time on matters. You may not realize it as it happens, but they are shaping who you will be tomorrow. Surround yourself with good people, and don’t waste your time or energy on bad people.
It’s never too late to do what you want to do or be who you want to be, but you have to be the one to do it.
Finally, your people are out there; you just have to look for them. Wherever we go from here, they’ll still be out there.
(If you can’t find them, try starting a food argument.)
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)