A decade ago, my oldest and dearest girlfriends—women I’ve known since elementary school—teased me mercilessly for not being on Facebook.
“Stretch your comfort zone a little!” they said. “It’ll make it so much easier for us all to stay in touch.”
They were probably right, but in its burgeoning stage, social media wasn’t something I felt comfortable with. I was reluctant to put myself out there, and other people’s posts mostly gave me headaches—and anxiety.
My friends ended up getting together and creating a Facebook account in my honor. They named me Irving Goldman so my identity would be kept secret, and they showed me how to log in.
Within a few weeks, I’d misplaced Irving’s password.
Sometimes I think about him, and I hope that he’s OK.
Last year, for a work project, I was required to create a Facebook account—which is to say a real one, with my own name attached to it. My friends thought that was hilarious.
I complied, begrudgingly, but after the project was finished, I never went back. After all, I had other things to think about.
I first stumbled upon Instagram in 2016 and fell instantly in love. I appreciated that I could choose exactly what I wanted to see in my feed, and the mindless, pretty photos always made me feel happy. Cute doggies, well-appointed houses, fabulous outfits: it was all in there, tailored just for me. But it wasn’t exactly a give-and-take relationship.
My initial IG handle was an uninspired “labird1974,” and true to form, I never posted anything of my own. I’m not photogenic, I rationalized, and I know nothing about camera angles or lighting or composition.
All of these things were true, but that wasn’t the real issue.
I’m a voracious reader—I have been for my entire life. I was an honors English major in college, and books are my passion, my pastime, and my therapy. While scrolling through IG one afternoon, I decided on a whim to post a review of a novel I’d just finished, even though I had zero followers. I threw together a few sentences and taught myself how to use hashtags. Nervously, I clicked “Share,” and my very first social media post was born.
I had no expectations, but within minutes I got a comment. And a follower. And then a few more. I was astounded: who were these people?
I quicky learned that they were #bookstagrammers.
It turns out there are a gaggle of people who—just like me—are obsessed with reading. They welcomed me into their community with open arms, and I straightaway changed my handle to “laura_at_the_library” because I’d finally found my people.
Thanks to #bookstagram, I have been able to communicate directly with some of my favorite authors—Steven Rowley, Jenna Blum, and Christi Clancy, to name a few. I’ve been invited to participate in virtual book clubs across the country (Hartford, Connecticut, here’s looking at you!). And I was even asked by one of my bookish friends in Iran to procure an illicit copy of a banned book for her. (Reader, I did it.) These unexpected connections have offered me substance as well as delight, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic has raged on.
I’m living proof that social media as a whole might not be for everybody. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok—there are a lot of choices, and they can be incredibly intimidating. But if you push deeper, just like a bookworm in an apple, you’ll find your way to a space where you belong.
By Laura Anne Bird