When Did Our Lives on Social Media Become More Time-Consuming Than Our Social Lives?

The existential crisis of the smartphone generation.

That so many of us who use social media—and that’s a whopping 92 percent of those between ages 18 and 29, and 73 percent of people in their 30s and 40s, according to the Pew Internet Project—choose to devote our time and energy to cultivating our online personae is no big surprise when you think about it. Not only is the power to control your image, and thereby people’s impression of you, pretty much irresistible, but also? It actually works.

Take Scott Schroeder. A few years back, the 37-year-old chef at South Philly Tap Room and American Sardine Bar was having trouble selling one menu item in particular: headcheese. (Read: A meat jelly made from a pig’s head.) But then one day, on a whim, Schroeder snapped a picture of the dish with his iPhone and Instagrammed it. Staring at his phone, he realized that a twee little picture of the pig gruel looking delicious on a slider bun beneath a pickle was more charming and way more appetizing than words on a menu. His customers realized the same thing. “Now people come in specifically to get it,” he says.

Meantime, while Scott was learning the power of Instagram in pushing his food, he was also learning how Twitter could be a great advertisement for … Scott Schroeder. His Twitter feed (@foodsyoucaneat), a unique mix of not-so-subtle drug references, food pictures and jokes, seems to fit his real-life looks: He’s a big guy, tattooed and bright-eyed, who seems like he could be trouble if you’re on his bad side but a blast to be around if you’re not. (Sample posts: “My spirit animal is @SarahPalinUSA”; “I betcha that
@justinbieber’s gonna end up WAY more fucked up than Michael Jackson ever was #betcha.”)

“The comedy is more for me than anyone else, I think,” he says with a laugh. “But I just figured, food writers are following every chef in the city—how am I going to stand out?”

He does manage to stand out to his 2,000-plus ­fol­lowers—some of whom have never even eaten in his restaurants, including a Manhattan Zagat writer and a group of graffiti artists in Brooklyn.

“As much fun as it can be, it can get sort of annoying, too,” he says of cultivating his fan base with his online antics. “Sometimes I’m out to dinner with my girlfriend and someone comes up to me or yells something. The problem is, people think I’m this funny, wacky drunk all the time, and I’m not … mostly.”

Evan Urbania is the CEO of Philly social media company ChatterBlast, which has helped lots of clients do what Schroeder has managed to do—minus the dirty jokes. ChatterBlast has worked with some seriously big-name local clients—Councilman Jim Kenney and the Philadelphia Parking Authority, among others—to build their online presences.

“Social media gives everyone the opportunity to have their own TV channel,” Urbania says. “And sure, that makes us editors, curators of our lives. We broadcast what we want others to think of us and consider how we want to be viewed.”

As Schroeder points out, “I might get made fun of for tweeting by my buddies, but having a public persona? That’s the game now.” Play the social media game right, and here’s what you get: a soapbox to stand on, a spotlight, a cheap way to make a name for yourself—or maybe even a whole new life.

Twenty-eight-year-old Mikey Ilagan—or @Mikeyil to his 2,500 followers—shot to Philly fame with a Tumblr account he started in 2011 called ThisIsNotACheesesteak, on which he mocked imitations he found in Toronto, Boston, wherever. He’s grown his following over the years by offering commentary on Twitter about the Philly food scene and tech news and by just being funny. He’s gotten invited to parties and restaurant openings, and is treated like a VIP at events he never would have been asked to attend pre-Tumblr. All of this seems to come naturally to him, but that doesn’t mean some thought doesn’t go into posting as @Mikeyil.

“Some people still use Twitter for minutiae, like they’re mowing their lawn or their baby puked on them,” says Ilagan. “I try to keep it interesting and be personal without getting too personal. I like to entertain. I like telling stupid jokes, and people really dig it when I make fun of recent local happenings. But private things, I keep private. I don’t air my dirty laundry or talk crap about people, ever.”

Perhaps the ultimate testament to Ilagan’s online skills is his fiancée, Allie Harcharek, whom he met on Twitter. “I thought she was a cool blogger and that she was interesting,” says Ilagan. “Then we met in person at a mutual Twitter friend’s birthday party.” They’ll marry in 2014.

Annie Heckenberger is another Twitter success story: The 38-year-old PR exec at Philly’s Red Tettemer + Partners worked in social media long before it was called social media, making MySpace pages for CoverGirl and Clairol. She got on Twitter originally because it was so good for business, but now she calls it her “biggest social outlet.”

“I don’t tweet about any one thing,” says Heckenberger, whose Twitter handle is @Anniemal. “I do a lot of tweeting about news and entertainment and a lot of commentary on TV shows I watch. My approach to Twitter is what I call the Keyser Söze approach. I will talk about anything. I will talk in a circle. But most often, I’ve told you nothing.”

The formula seems to have worked: @Anniemal has 7,000-plus followers. She’s gotten tweets from movie stars. She gets recognized in public.

“At first it was a little bit weird for me, because I’m not a celebrity and it’s not my intent to be a public figure, but by nature of this medium I have become one,” she says. “I’ve had people drive by and yell ‘Anniemal!’ out of their car.” Strangers have sent her flowers when she was sick; one woman in California baked her cookies. All thanks to Twitter, her social media outlet of choice.

“I’ve heard Facebook described as ‘Bragbook,’” she says: “Typically, there are people making their lives look perfect—look at my dinner, or look at how perfect my children are, look at how great my lawn looks. But no one is going to post a picture of their face puffy and crying after a breakup. My feeling is that Twitter is a little more honest.”

Heckenberg may be an overtweeter—checking Twitter last thing before bed, first thing in the morning, and even sometimes, she admits, in the middle of the night—but, like Ilagan, she tries not to be an oversharer. “I haven’t told you online about my personal life, who I’m dating,” she explains. “And I tend not to air grievances.”

Even for @Anniemal, online honesty has its limits.

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  • Corry

    Wow, Whitlock. Tell us how you really feel

  • http://www.facebook.com/mjacobs45 Matt Jacobs

    Whitlock is spot on…..we’ve known that for the better part of a decade since he told us Pinkston and Thrash were good enough…..

  • Wilbert M.

    I’m on the same page with Whitlock as far as the play calling. It was ridiculous.

    • http://twitter.com/jaymattt Jay Matt

      Same here. When you have someone like McCoy, freaking use him!

  • BG

    I’d be willing to bet that if you went back to week 13 of last season and compiled what these has-beens or never-weres had to say about the Giants I’m sure it would echo the waste of space that has been propagated on this site. Fact is, last week’s game was a win (PERIOD) It has been proven over and over again, most recently by the 2011 (9-7) Champion Giants, that all you need to do is accumulate enough wins to get in and everyone has a shot. The rest is just hot air and mindless commentary.

    • ICDogg

      good point.

    • Septhinox

      I highly doubt you will find a stretch where Manning played as badly as Vick has been the last year and a half.

      They aren’t condemning the team as a whole, they are condemning Vick. And rightfully so.

  • jabostick

    I hate to give Reid too much credit but they obviously had a game plan (re: the “things they saw in the passing game” or whatever Reid said) and they put up a ton of yards. I understand the thought that if Vick is having a terrible day that you should move away and adjust but if you’re calling plays that are getting guys open and Vick is throwing late or telegraphing or making the wrong read, how is that on Andy?

    Again, I get the not adjusting earlier part of it, but it’s not as if Reid/Marty called a “force it into 3 guys” pass play. The execution was shitty, not necessarily the play calling.

  • TPZ

    Jason Whitlock is dead on with this topic. MV was horrible – I think we all get that, but he’s a worker merely following instructions (plays), and he’s not the type of QB that you’d want to overload with responsibility. Why is it that AR cannot or will not adjust his game plan on game day when it’s obviously needed. Is he and/or his staff that inept, or is he really that stubborn to maintain his scripted plan when the climate of the game is ever changing? Again, why? Over 60 passing attempts against a lower tiered team that notably has a proficient passing defense and poor against the run (and we have one of the best backs in the league)? Both MV & AR/offensive staff appeared to be cognitively challenged (PC for stupid) on Sunday, and what’s particularly troubling is that this isn’t the first time (or quarterback) that AR has displayed this thinking and action (or lack thereof)….Again, begs the question – can this guy win a superbowl?

  • Paul

    If the Eagles are so bad then somebody please explain to me why are they 21/2 points favorites against the Ravens this week?

    • ICDogg

      I still don’t have a grip on that myself.

  • Xoverscribbler

    Teddy Bruschi touches a nerve. There is SOMETHING about Michael Vick’s playing style and approach that is causing him to get hit and turn the ball over. We have seen the backups execute plays effectively without so much as a scratch; what gives, magic Mike? Let’s wipe the slate clean and play lights out!

    • ICDogg

      Slow decision making comes to mind.

      • http://twitter.com/MykeLane Michael Lane

        Going for the huge play every play unlike how the rookie or Edwards played sounds accurate. I think hero ball was something Teddy heard about from Bilechek. I’m sure he’ll be better game manger this week

  • dave h

    but what about “eagles lead[ing] the laegue in cap space ??” ..cant we celebrate that ??

    • jabostick

      “Joe Nickels Banner!” – philly.com reader

      • ICDogg

        Actually I’ve seen it more often rendered as Joe “Nickles” Banner. The spelling highlights the intelligence of the author.

  • Charlie foxtrot

    “Concerning ” is not a word, at least the way you’re trying to use it. You might say “of concern” perhaps.

  • http://twitter.com/The_Jruth Cory Widmann

    If only we had a Pro Bowl running back, I mean for real. Putting a lot on Vick to drop back 56 times. However it is a passing league and you need to throw the ball well, and he didn’t after the first Q.

  • xlGmanlx

    I can’t stand Brushi, what a jack ass. He and Harrison are the BIGGEST Pats homers in the media and it isn’t even close. How many SB’s have the pats won since being busted for cheating? Brady has been out Brady’d and their defense has been their achilles heal in both losses and that is supposedly BB strength. The NFL is such a fickle sport, if they win 3 in a row they will be crowned kings and if they lose two straight written off as a fluke. Nothing matters until the post season, we just enjoy the ride because there are only 16 games in the regular season. If they could sustain 40 game seasons, no one would care about the first 2.5 months.

  • Phillybrasil

    To me Jason Witlock is a morno because he really didn’t pay close attention to the game. The Eagles did run shady but every time he got a good run the Eagles got a penalty. So the run was nullified and then the Eagles has to past because was down and long. Secondly the eagles dominated in offensive plays by 20 more then the browns, so they had the ball a lot more. Shady carried the ball a lot more then the stats indicated because of do over runs through penalties. He is not a 30 carry back. I will admit Andy is sometimes too pass happy but he is also a consistant winner as coach. I am just sick of wanna be football fans or columnist who watched a stat line an think they can coach. Eagles and Andy Reid will be alright by Dec but Whitlock will be a moron long after

  • hopOFF

    they need to find something better to talk about than vicks first game of the season, which happened to be bad. wanting to and trying harder to win more than anyone else in the league is his only flaw. it does lead to him getting hurt at times but whether or not he plays all season he is going to do anything he can to help us win. even if he doesnt play we have a great system to slip foles in to. everything is leading to an eagles superbowl. hop off