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Checking Out of Social Media

I’ll be leaving Instagram in about a week.

You might disagree with this choice, but I’m used to that. People told me I was foolish to quit Facebook and Twitter over a year ago. That decision had no effect on my business, but paid off big for my mental health.

So-called online marketing experts will say it’s best to be authentic.

Well, this is about as authentic as I get.

Instagram is not a creative space, it is a vehicle for delivery or denial of dopamine hits, and like any addictive substance, what once made you feel good, you eventually use to keep from feeling bad.

Building an Instagram following today revolves around frequent posting of content. Stories, videos, images, ads, all in an attempt to manipulate the algorithm into offering your stuff to an audience that will show or deny approval by tapping their finger on a little heart.

It doesn’t matter if that content is new or relevant, as long as it’s frequent.

To feed that beast, or get noticed by an art aggregator or influencer, I end up creating things simply so that I have something to post, which means the more detailed pieces that take many hours to complete suffer from inattention and take longer to finish.

Or I have to come up with clever gimmicks or pictures or make up stories that take me away from the work that pays the bills, in a vain attempt to fool myself that it’s advancing my business, when there is no supporting evidence.

Then I waste more time checking to see if anybody has liked or commented, and am always disappointed in the results, no matter what they are. After which I spend more time scrolling through the feed until I realize that the half hour I’ve just wasted on nothing could have been time spent drawing, painting, writing, bookkeeping, or on admin stuff. These are things that actually DO impact the success of my business.

I’ve gone back and forth on this for weeks, read countless articles on both sides of the argument, taken into account the bias inherent in each, while trying to filter my fear of missing out. I’ve explored the extremes of what-if worst case scenarios, the conjuring of which I am a pro.

I tried switching to a business page, to pay to promote my posts, but the only way you can do that is to go through Facebook, which meant I would have to go back on Facebook not only with a personal profile, but with another business page.

That’s like going back to an abusive relationship after a clean break.

Is it possible that the owners of Instagram will have a re-awakening, change their direction and suddenly make the platform better for everybody again? Or is it more likely that its best days are in the past and it has become infected by the same toxic decay plaguing Facebook?

Granted, I could be making a huge mistake, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

People said that quitting my job many years ago to become a full-time artist was a mistake, too, and that worked out pretty well for me.

My income comes from a few different sources. There are daily editorial cartoons I email directly to my newspaper clients across Canada, print sales of my whimsical wildlife paintings at venues and shows, and licensing of the animal art where they end up in retail stores or on other sites. I don’t need to manipulate the data to convince myself that these sources produce revenue. The proof is in my bank account.

With Instagram, I have to tell myself it’s worth my time, even though I don’t believe it.

I posted a close version of this on instagram to give people a chance to see it before I pulled the plug. I still run into folks who think I blocked them on Facebook, even though I’ve had no presence on that platform for well over a year. They just missed the announcement.

It might seem like a ploy to get people to follow my newsletter and site. That would be accurate.

The only reason I was on social media was to direct traffic to my business. I’m a commercial artist. This is how I pay my bills. One of the things people forget about social media is that if you aren’t paying for a product, then you are the product. Instagram does not deliver me any value and it’s not paying me for my time, the ultimate non-renewable resource.

I have this website in which I’m invested, regular blog posts, a newsletter and I’m easy to find online. I plan to start recording more time-lapse videos on my YouTube channel, without being restricted to the one minute allowed by Instagram. All of that produces sustainable and searchable content that doesn’t disappear into an attention span black hole.

Cheers,
Patrick

If you’d like to receive my newsletter which features blog posts, new paintings and editorial cartoons, follow this link to the sign up form.

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Politics, Rage and Social Media


When people find out that I’m an editorial cartoonist, I often hear that I must be having a lot of fun going after Trump, or Trudeau, or Harper, or whomever people love to hate at that given moment. I usually just agree with them and change the subject, because most of the time, I don’t want to talk about it.

It’s just part of my job. It’s not who I am.

A lot of editorial cartoonists I know are political junkies, they love this shit. The theatrics and maneuvering, the players and the games they play, following elections and campaigns…many of my colleagues and competitors get off on it.

I got into this profession from the other side of things. Almost twenty years ago, I just wanted to draw and colour all day and at the time, editorial cartooning was the opportunity that presented itself. Before that, I really didn’t care about politics at all.

As a consequence, I had to learn to follow politics and current events. I was young(ish), opinionated, thought I knew more than I did, so I attacked it with relish. I also had a chip on my shoulder about starting into it a lot later than my competitors and felt I had something to prove. This meant that my mouth/keyboard got me into trouble sometimes, but I learned quite some time ago that sharing my political opinions on forums, comment sections and social media are a waste of my life.

As I’ve gotten older, this job has taken quite a toll on my perspective. When you follow negative news all day, every day for decades, it does damage to one’s psyche. Constant bombardment of bleeding leads and the worst examples of human behaviour taking center stage on the news, are only eclipsed by the relatively recent fashion of everybody sharing and arguing their own point of view with extra vitriol and a side of rage. Finding the good in people is a daily struggle, but I’ve not yet given up. I am both a conflicted idealist and a reluctant misanthrope.

I often equate the online world of this profession to getting up each day, having a shower, getting dressed, then turning on my computer and wading into raw sewage.

Basically, if I got terminal cancer tomorrow, would having an online argument with a perfect stranger about Conservatives and Liberals really be a good use of the time I’ve got left? That question should be given just as much weight even without the terminal diagnosis. I don’t even argue politics on my own editorial cartoon Facebook page. I post the toon and move on to the next one.

When I see people arguing about how bad the Liberals are, I remember the Conservatives, who seemed really bad when they were in power, but not as bad as the Liberals in power before them or the Conservatives before them. You see, follow this stuff long enough and you see the same repeating patterns, regardless of the parties or individual players. Political spin has been around since the first caveman stood up, pointed a finger at the other guy for overcooking the mastodon, and promised the group that he could cook it better. All they had to do was give him the best cut of meat.

So while Donald Trump seems like the extreme example lately, I just see another politician, without the polish of a life in politics. It’s the same mindset; he’s just less practiced at hiding his motivations.

But it isn’t just the elected folks. The people who like to blame everything on the government and tell them to stay out of their lives are often the same people who blame the government for not doing enough when their lives don’t meet the sitcom ideal.

Fix my roads, but don’t make me wear a seat belt or tell me how much to drink before driving. Photo radar is a scam, but I’m not going to slow down. On a Facebook article about a family dying in a car crash due to distracted driving, be sure to click the sad face emoticon on your phone while you’re doing fifty in a school zone.

We expect the government to repair the economy, create more jobs and make sure we can retire early with more money than we currently earn, but don’t make us sacrifice the latest iPhone or SUV in order to pay off our increasing credit card debt. Don’t tell me to eat healthy and exercise, just make sure the health care doesn’t cost me anything, and there had better not be any waiting.

We’re a privileged populace who can’t even tolerate the inconvenience of voting, but we’ll bitch about it online for years afterward. If everybody who says they voted actually voted, we’d have more than a 90% turnout every time.

True story, at the last federal election advance polls here in Canmore, there was a long lineup moving slowly. Poor organization, unexpected volume, who knows the reason? Frustrating, yes, but definitely a first world problem. People fight wars for this privilege.

A man not far behind me in line, finally blurted out something along the lines of, “screw this, if you can’t get your shit together, you don’t get my vote,” and he stormed off, no doubt convinced he was right. I wonder if he had time to watch TV later or share a nasty political meme on Twitter.

We’re all so angry all the time, that we’re not realizing how little it makes sense or how much choice we actually have in the matter. And before I get feedback about the pot calling the kettle black, I hear you. I’ve been angry for a long time and it took a recent frightening personal crisis to realize it.

It’s exhausting. It’s ridiculous. Worst of all, the solution is obvious.

The next time you see something online that gets your blood boiling and presses all of your rage buttons, delay that share, comment or angry emoticon. Take a breath. Take another.

Ask yourself if what you’re reading was designed to make you mad. Ask yourself who has what to gain by your getting angry at it. Was it written by a stranger? By a troll? By a paid lobbyist? By a person whose opinion you even value? Are you being manipulated to feel this way in order to serve somebody else’s agenda? Is this worth getting upset about? Will your engaging with this argument change anything in your life for the better or will it just make you stay angry for longer?

By sharing the instigating post, are you improving the world around you by inflicting the same rage on the people you actually do care about?

Sometimes anger is warranted, especially if it’s a cause or subject that affects you personally or genuinely has an impact on your life and your values. In those cases, your voice matters. One voice can change the world, for better or worse. But you will make your point better after thoughtful consideration, followed by a measured response. If it takes you a day or two to get your thoughts together, so be it. If it’s not worth that day or two, then it isn’t worth it at all.

Most importantly, people are going to disagree with you. Family, friends, colleagues, coworkers, and strangers, are as entitled to their opinions as you are to yours. When they disagree with respect, hear them out. You might learn something. Listening to another’s point of view has become a lost art.

If somebody resorts to insults, name-calling and childish behaviour, let it go. They’re not worth your time.

They’re not worth your life.

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Online

Social media is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it allows a self-employed relatively unknown artist like me to reach a wider audience than would normally be possible. By being online and posting content, more people follow my work, I get my name out there, and in a perfect world, it generates more sales.

On the other hand, it becomes an addiction. There is an increased focus on getting more shares, retweets, and followers.

Because social media is still relatively new, everybody is trying to be the expert and tell everybody else how to use it properly, when what that person is really doing is to try to sell you their book on how to use social media. I’ve bought a few of these books. You know what? They don’t know what they’re talking about either, because while it might be working for them, it doesn’t work for everybody, as personality and specific skills and talents come into play as well.

Do you ever wonder why self-help authors keep writing books on self-help? Clearly the first one didn’t have a lot of value.

Many of these social media experts will tell you to be yourself and authentic, then give you a hundred other reasons not to.

A popular strategy that circulates often will tell you that the way to generate more buzz surrounding your work is to share your own work a certain percentage of the time, other people’s work another percent of the time, industry links and articles, engage with your followers a certain amount of the time, don’t sell too much, don’t sell too little, reveal your true self, but not too much. Social media means social, so pretend to be social, even if you’re not. Treat your followers like they’re your friends, talk to them like you’re having coffee, don’t make it all about work, cause people see through that.

Basically, lie. All the time.

In what world do you walk into a retail store and find 33% of the walls taken up with directions and ads telling you to go to another store? When’s the last time you went to a restaurant and they handed you three menus for OTHER restaurants? It doesn’t make any sense.

Artists are by nature insecure, no matter what they’ll tell you. We’re still the little kid holding up their fifth drawing of the day to their parent saying, “look, Mom! Look what I did!”

Meanwhile, there’s no room left on the fridge and we’re about to go full bore tantrum that she doesn’t put it up for everybody to see, thus validating our self-esteem for the next thirty seconds.

That’s social media for artists and other creative types. Look at what I did! Then we check back (far too often) to see how many people have liked it, commented on it, shared it, and re-tweeted it. How many more followers did that get? What effect did it have on my Klout score? Did anybody with a lot of followers share it?

You want to really see a ticked off artist? That’s when one of us posts an image we worked really hard on, nitpicked every little brush stroke or fleck of light, put it up online and waited to see the reaction, only to watch a ridiculous argument over the real colour of a snapshot of a dress take over the entire internet and be shared worldwide.

It makes you think you really have no clue what the hell you’re doing when a video of the thousandth guy getting kicked in the crotch by his kid gets a million views on YouTube and you’re trying desperately to get a few more people to see a paid Facebook ad for prints so you can make enough money to pay for the next Facebook ad.

Social media is a big illusion, we all know this, but we act like we don’t. People either only post all of their woes online looking for sympathy, or they post only the great things in their lives making everything seem perfect. The first one is depressing because just like in real life, nobody likes a whiner. It reminds me of a joke I heard from a comedian that went, “You know who cares less about your problems than you? Everybody.”

Then there’s the other person, the one who shows only all of the great things that happen in their lives. Polly Anna is just as annoying as Debbie Downer. Those ‘everything is awesome!’ posts get just as wearing, because like Brad Paisley sang in his popular tune, “I’m so much cooler online.”

Right about now, some of you are virtually pointing their fingers at me either accusing me of being the former OR the latter. You’re absolutely right, too, because I’ve alternated depending on my mood. Guilty as charged. I’m a mercurial personality and I wear my heart on my sleeve. You tick me off, I hold a grudge. Betray my loyalty, I will likely never forgive you. I’m human; I’ve got plenty of flaws. So do you. I’ll lie to you, you lie to me and even though we both know we’re doing it, we’ll pretend we’re OK with it so nobody gets uncomfortable.

As a self-employed person, you’re supposed to be positive online all the time. Every little success is an opportunity to crow! Every negative thing is a silver lining learning experience! Turn that frown upside down; put on a happy face, fake it ‘til you make it.

When you’re not a super positive person in real life all the time, which is a sin to admit if you’re self-employed, being that UP online only works for so long. Eventually the pressure gets too much and all of the pent up cynicism comes pouring out, too.

It’s also a time suck. Who among us hasn’t gone online looking for something specific and then found ourselves on the fifth or sixth link an hour later wondering where the time went? My wife calls it wiki-wandering. One YouTube video on how to sew a zipper eventually becomes the trailer for Sharknado VII and I’m too tired now, I’ll just buy a new jacket.

Social media depresses me. It really does. Even though I know that every other artist out there is dealing with the same ups and downs that I am, I know that they’re not selling nearly as much as I think they are, and that a person’s number of followers online doesn’t really amount to real world sales, it’s still hard to keep that green-eyed monster at bay when you see legions of fans rave about someone’s latest piece and your own goes largely unnoticed.

Also, when you start surfing Facebook or Twitter, get sucked into click-bait headlines, spend a half hour shooting the breeze on messenger and then realize an hour later that you’ve now got to rush to make deadline, it’s a clear indication that social media is not your friend. Then you complain to your friends and family how busy you are and can’t get everything done.

Again, how many retail stores operate like this in real life?

So, in an effort to regain a little more control over my online life, I’m going to try (that’s the operative word, here) to restrict myself from social media for a little while. I’m going to give the first half hour of the day to it, scan the headlines, see what’s trending and being shared, and then try to shut it down. I’ll still post new cartoons and images as they’re done, but I’ll be doing my best to ignore it the rest of the day. The mobile phone will be staying off while I’m at home, especially in the evening. The Facebook Messenger app was deleted a couple of weeks ago, notifications are all turned off. My office phone is a land line, the number is listed and on my site, as is my email address. People can easily reach me without social media.

It will take me some time to curb these bad habits and like kicking any addiction, it will take fits and starts. But it’s depressing, it’s annoying, and it’s counterproductive, which means it’s time for a change.

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Comments and Choices

PostitJust as artists discover their own style,  freelance long enough and you’ll discover your business style, too.  As the online world changes, faster today than ever before, so will your way of doing things.  For example, when I began to post editorial cartoons on this site, I disabled comments because I knew it would turn into a melee of differing political opinions.  While I agree with a person’s right to express themselves and argue their point, anybody who strongly disagrees with my point of view can send me an email or write a letter to the editor of one of the publications across Canada in which my cartoons appear.  But all one has to do is look at almost any political story on a news website and you’ll see how quickly it gets turned into a free-for-all brawl.  Pro-Conservatives will seize any opportunity to further their cause, regardless of whether or not the story warrants it.  Pro-Liberals do the same thing.  Any real discussion is lost amid the noise.  To avoid that, comments have never been allowed on editorial cartoons on this site.

An argument has been made by some in recent years to disable comments on blog posts as well.  While I’d never given it much thought, I’ve read some of those arguments, and recently revisited that question.   When it comes to interaction with artists, freelancers, and the folks who just generally like my cartoons, social media is where the action is, at least for me.  Facebook is where I get the most feedback and where people seem to like to comment the most.  It’s also where I get the most questions about how I do things, requests for help, and just general discussion on cartoons, blog posts, and other links.  I regularly get commission work on that platform as well.

Twitter is another form of interaction that has proven to be worth my while lately.  Not only does it grant access to other people I don’t interact with on Facebook, but I get real time information in short bursts.  It also forces me and others to be succinct in posting any links and comments.  It took me a long time to see the value in Twitter, but I get it, now, and am using it daily.

Google+ is still an effort for me.  I don’t get nearly the interaction there that I get on Facebook or Twitter and have been having a hard time finding the value in the platform.  While some would argue that Google+ is where everybody is going, I’m just not seeing it.  For awhile, it seemed to be taken over by photographers or at least hyped to be the place where photographers should be, but I only post there lately because it takes two more seconds after I’ve posted to Facebook and Twitter.

When it comes to blog posts, there are many who will tell you that you must keep a blog, while there are others who’ll say blogging is dead.  I still believe in keeping a blog, but only because I enjoy writing.  If you don’t like writing or teaching, you won’t enjoy it or keep it current.

The point of all of this rambling about my online posting practices is to show that what works for one person may not work for another.  Many self proclaimed authorities will tell you the exact methods and devices you must use when it comes to self promotion, but usually they’re just validating their own choices.  It’s the same reason the Apple vs. PC, Nikon vs. Canon, Coke vs. Pepsi debates still rage on.  If you can get other people to do what you do, then it somehow means you’re right.

The reason so many more people are choosing freelancing as a career is that they want the freedom to make their own choices.  It’s a very big reason why I chose to do it.  I would much rather screw up and learn from my own mistakes, than take orders from a boss who refuses to admit he ever makes any.  With that freedom of choice, it’s important to listen to other professionals and find out what your options are, but then make your own choices based on what you feel is right for your business.  Weigh the facts, but trust your gut.  We’re all just winging it, even the so-called experts.

When it comes to my website, I think of it like a storefront or a brochure.  It’s the image of my business that I want to project.  That means controlling the content, the look, and what gets posted.

I don’t get  a lot of comments on this site in the first place, largely because most people choose to interact with me on social media, and to be honest, that’s the way I prefer it.  While many of the comments I do get are positive and supportive, I regularly have to weed out the ones that are argumentative, ill-informed, and some that are so long, they’re blog entries all on their own.  It’s a time suck, and lately, it’s just not working for me.  By censoring comments, as well as picking and choosing which I want to show, it would be hard to argue that it’s real interaction, anyway.  Consequently, if I allowed anybody to post whatever they want, it would quickly begin to look like a business where the front window is covered in leaflets, announcements, and propaganda for other businesses, agendas, and personal causes.  I find neither of those options particularly appealing.  The main reason I chose not to sell ad space on my site was to avoid that problem.

Freelancing is a tough gig most of the time, but if you try to please everybody, you’ll be miserable.  Make your own choices, judge their effectiveness, make new choices.  Keep what works, discard what doesn’t.  Repeat ad infinitum.

Today, I’ve decided that even though blog comments used to be mainstays in online interaction, I believe that social media has replaced their usefulness, so I’m disabling them on my website.

Thank you for those who have commented on this site in the past, and just because I’m turning comments off here, doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear from you.  I’m on social media every day and am happy to talk with you there.  Chances are you found this link on social media in the first place.  But if not, here are the links to my social media accounts.

Facebook: LaMontagneCartoonInk

Twitter: @CartoonInk

Google+: Patrick LaMontagne