Lately—probably because I’m on vacation and find myself with a little extra time to think (I know, not good)—I’ve found myself wondering why I haven’t been checking Facebook. I still post stuff there occasionally, but I haven’t really scrolled through my News Feed in months. If you’ve noticed my absence in your likes and comments, which seems unlikely since no one’s said anything, this is why. I’m just not drawn there anymore.
I’ve been in a few thrift stores lately and one of my all-time favorite things about thrift stores is finding and…um…celebrating the ridiculous stuff that people have owned and passed on. I make up stories in my head of the original owners and what possessed them to buy these things in the first place. I like to imagine the unbelievable joy they derived from owning this thing that I am now mocking in shameful judgment. Did they truly love this crazy shit and grow tired of it? Were they possessed to buy more crazy shit so they had to sell this stuff to make room? Did they just die and leave it for their heirs who then experience moments of comic relief in their hour of grief? Were these prized possessions actually fashionable or popular in some place and time?
Then my mind drifts back one step further to the artist. The Creator. The font of endless creativity from which sprung this gem that I now hold in my hand. Sometimes it’s obvious that, sure, at some point it may have been original, beautiful, cool, whatever. And other times I can derive no understanding of what possessed someone to think that what they were making was actually a good idea or would be remotely desirable to any member of the human race.
And here’s where I venture into something deeper: is this what keeps us from creating…writing, playing, composing, making, sharing? Will someone laugh at this? It’s already been done so why should I do it? Will this thing only matter to me and if so, why should I bother sharing it? Why bother making it in the first place for that matter?
I hear it over and over from all types of people, “I like to post useful things, you know, more than just ‘what I ate for breakfast'” or “…(s)he only posts stupid stuff like what (s)he ate for breakfast.” It always rubs me the wrong way and it’s not just because I post about what I eat occassionally in my social media spaces. I’ve been thinking a lot about this, more since I’ve been on Twitter (see this one and this one for example), and here’s why I think it bothers me:
- It’s judgmental: far be it for me to call anyone else out on being judgmental—because that is a huge issue I’m working on—but who are we to criticize what others post in social spaces? If you don’t like it, don’t follow it or unfriend them or whatever, but to publicly make an issue out of it seems inappropriate.
- I learn a lot from what people eat: chances are I’m following you on Twitter or friended you on Facebook because I want to know about you. Not just the smart/funny/cute things you say, but what you do, what you think, what you like, etc. I think we can all agree that eating is important and often takes a big role in our lives, one way or another. Also, I’ve noticed that many people are saying more than just what they ate. What they ate can say whether they’re health-concious, vegetarian, love junk food, love meat, etc. and all these things indicate a lot of other things. For instance where they’re from, their social or political ideas, how they handle stress, whether or not they have kids or a partner, how old they are, whether or not they travel, how adventerous they are, and on and on. Other information about where and when something is eaten can indicate how busy someone’s life is or their daily habits or places they like to go and who they like to be there with. Eating is part of our identity and I personally like learning about the whole person. If you’re boring me, I’ll unfollow or unfriend you. It’s that simple.
- We all have a choice: and I guess that’s what it all boils down to: we all choose what we like and don’t like and we can all be different—no need to be judgmental and condescending because you want everyone to know that you’re all business on social media.
So yeah, maybe me writing this post is being judgmental about people who are judgmental but I wanted to get this thinking out and maybe I’ll change my mind—who knows? Or maybe you’ll tell me what you think about “food posts” or what some would consider “mundane” things on social media?
My first, personal, non-family blog post was basically about fostering an authentic online identity. I started a family blog when my first daughter was born, and I had thought for years that I wanted to write just for me—put my thoughts and observations out into the online chasm. But I was always worried about whether or not it would be appropriate, or that I would have to censor myself too much to be interesting, or even though it was for me, no one else would read it or care. (Really, it didn’t matter if anyone read it, but I still hoped at least one person would.)
Obviously, I said to hell with it and started this up, and this week a friend of mine (via Facebook), posted an interesting article which rekindled my passion for really being ourselves (or mostly), online. The article—The Anti-Social Network—basically says that we tend to only post the great stuff about our lives in our online, social spaces. In the status updates we’re always happy, witty, or insightful and all our photos are us and our friends or spouses having fun, our cute kids (always smiling), or something crazy/interesting/artsy etc. Our representation of ourselves and our lives online is very one-sided. And what the study found was that after viewing this stuff, most of us become depressed or are basically put in some form of bummer (yeah, that’s the scientific term). We actually believe that others are happier or better off than ourselves and we hate it.
I know I’ve sometimes wanted to just “shout out” online that I’m having a shitty day, or that I was so angry that I almost put my fist through a window, or I wept in the car for no fucking reason, but I always stop myself. No one wants to read that shit. No one wants to hear you complain. There’s no point in telling others that stuff. I’ll come across as baiting for pick-me-ups and that’s the last thing on earth that I want: a bunch of people I barely talk to anymore saying, “Aw, chin up little buddy!” or “Do you need a hug?” or “Wow, what the fuck is wrong with you, man?”
I don’t think it has to be that way though. I think we really can show a variety of feelings and expressions online as long as we can get over our insecurities. Maybe it won’t matter, but I think by showing a fuller picture of ourselves, it may actually bring us closer together. I know I generally appreciate people’s honesty, even if it does make me a little uncomfortable, because that’s reality. That’s being human. We’re happy AND sad. We’re funny AND boring as hell. Our kids are adorable angels and little assholes at times. Yes we are great but yes, we are shitty too. So I ask you: who’s with me in sharing some shitty?
Okay, maybe that title isn’t exactly fair. At work, I’m the email boss. I think my replies are timely, succinct, and at times even tastefully humorous. But on the personal front, I suck. If your message requires a quick answer, sure, I get it done. However, those personal emails or messages that are more in-depth and along the lines of “how are the kids?” or “which albums have you been listening to?” or even “what’s your favorites on Netflix there days?” have me stuck. You will not get a reply in under three weeks. It could take years. It is my kryptonite.
Those “fact-only” emails are easy: “can you be at this place on this day?” Yes. Or no. Or how about this instead? Easy. But “how are the kids?” C’mon. I have a friggin website devoted to that with a blog, photos, and videos, but you’ve decided you want it straight from the horses mouth, which is cool, but my brain starts running through a catalog of all the amazing, funny, wonderful, fun, scary things that have happened just in the last week and the thought of transferring it to written word in even the most basic way requires a special place and time. I like you. I like my kids. I want to do you all justice. So you don’t get that reply that’s timely, succinct, or even tastefully funny.
Maybe my standards are too high? Maybe you really don’t care, you’re just being polite, and you want the grocery store checkout lady version: “oh, they’re great, crazy as ever!” Done. But again, I like you. I like my kids. You deserve more. WE deserve more.
On top of all this, throw in the multiple channels that compete on a daily basis. I get phone calls, texts, direct messages and mentions on Twitter, messages on Facebook, and Google+, and oh, right, what’s that old-ass thing called? EMAIL. Granted, I love some of these alternate forms of communication for various reasons:
- DM on Twitter: Great for people to send a private note who don’t have your other info and maybe who you don’t want to have it. Feels less personal and “up in your grill”.
- Facebook/Google+ message: Convenient for people already surfing Facebook, and again, don’t have your other contact info. Feels less personal and “up in your grill”.
- Texts: Great for places you can’t talk and quicker than dialing, ringing, waiting, talking, saying good-bye, hanging up when all you want to say is, “I’m on my way.”
I like being in touch though, that’s the thing. Especially since moving away from my old turf, I feel it keeps me present, even when I’m not. So yes, the obvious answer might be toning it back down to just phone or phone and email, but I don’t think that’s the main issue. For me, it’s that I care too damn much. Words are important. My life and your life, they’re important. I don’t want the checkout clerk or drive-thru version. And it would all be perfect if I just made the time and saved the energy to type out my brain and heart to all your messages, preferrably before a year passes.
Shit. In the time I wrote this damn post, I could have answered at least one of you in my InBox with some finely crafted email love. Next time. I promise.
As I go through this world I am constantly amazed at how much like monkeys we really are. Sure, we’re slightly evolved, but if you strip away the inventions and higher-level talk, we’re just a bunch of animals. Maybe I’ve been watching my kids too much, who are evolving from basic primates to sophisticated humans, but I think my observations stand.While I was studying music in college, we were exposed to some really outside shit. Of course there was twelve-tone music and atonal music, which were actually not so strange to me. But imagine listening to pre-pubescent boys screaming, played backwards and looped, over church bells (of different sizes) ringing, also played backwards and looped. Yeah. Creepy. Anyway, with a lot of this “new” music, we debated whether this was basically a monkey at a musical typewriter—like it was so random, basic, or so strange it took no skill or creativity to make—or it was really a product of genius. I used to sit in class and imagine myself and my classmates as monkeys banging away in the jungle, scratching and screaming when we found something that tickled our fancy while the others hollered and hissed back. Mind you, we thought pretty highly of ourselves, as many 18-22-year-old-undergrads tend to, so I often found great amusement in this exercise. This thought has recently resurfaced in my little brain but has been transposed onto social media. Are we really thoughtful, intelligent, enlightened humans, connecting with each other through advanced forms of social behavior and technology? Or are we simply a bunch of monkeys scratching ourselves and hollering to impress each other? I think it’s really both and I think it should be, after all, we are still basically monkeys. We can’t take ourselves too seriously but I think we’re obligated to share our knowledge, perspective, and experience, and with these somewhat new tools, it’s all pretty easy to do. Obligations aside though, I still find great amusement in being a monkey myself and playing with the rest of the herd.
I love to observe and “study” human interaction. What’s really interesting is to watch how insecurities affect body language, tone of voice, and behavior, especially in social settings. And since the rise of social networks, I’ve always been curious how others handle potentially awkward situations in these online social spaces. The big difference I see is that online, all of sudden people are brave. People you only sort of know or knew, who would’t even look you in the eye or say “hi” on the street, all of sudden want to be your “friend”, want to know what you’re up to, and actually comment on your life.I recently got a friend request from someone I knew in junior high and high school, and if memory serves, she annoyed the hell out of me. This led me to not always be very nice to her. I’ll be the first to admit I have the potential to be a total asshole, and when I was a cocky, figuring-the-world-and-relationships-out-teenager, I didn’t have a whole lot of tact or patience at times. Now with this particular girl, I don’t think I ever made her cry, but I know we weren’t friends. We were in band together and we didn’t exactly ignore each other…but maybe it was a mutual annoyance that sometimes flourished into “words”. Anyway, here she is now, 13 years later, sending me a friend request on Facebook. Unlike many people, I usually only have friends on Facebook that are actually my friends, or are people I care about, because I don’t have time for fake relationships anymore. In fact, long before Facebook or even Friendster (remember that one?) came out, I had started weeding people out of my life that were just too much work to keep relationships with. So I put a post up to my Facebook friends and asked what they’d do. There were basically two approaches that were recommended: ignore the friend request or add her as a friend to a list that doesn’t show any updates (so she would be my “friend”, but she wouldn’t see anything). I followed up asking if sending a note would be an option, asking why she’d want to be “friends” after all these years (and after our not-so-great relationship). No one really liked that idea. As many of you know, I’m sort of on a quest for an authentic online representation of myself (see Social Censorship). I mean, if we’re expanding our social circles beyond face-to-face, why should our online self be so different from what people get face-to-face? Why mask or mute aspects of ourselves, just because we can? Why not just use social spaces online to amplify our our true selves? Of course, our persona would translate accordingly. We all act a certain way with coworkers (which could be one list in Facebook where you wouldn’t post that Onion article about how many pounds of pubic hair are being shaved this Valentines Day), and we all act a certain way with our close friends (another list in Facebook where that Onion article would be happy to live). That being said, I don’t feel comfortable just ignoring friend requests. I’m not the type of person that will pretend I didn’t hear you if you say “hi” to me in person. Sure, I’ll avoid you if I see you across the street and I don’t like you, but only if I know you haven’t seen me first. If I know I’ve been spotted, I won’t run away. I’ll probably even be nice now that I’m not an ignorant, cocky, insensitive teenager. Also, for the people I’ve gotten friend requests from that actually were friends that just sort of faded away, but I’m interested in what they’ve been up to, I accept the request but always follow up with a note saying, “Hey, wow, been a while. Good to hear from you. What’s up?!” as a way of saying, “Glad you found me and I care about this relationship we just (re)started, even if it is online”. I think we sort of owe it to each other as humans to be respectful of one another, even from behind our computer screens. We shouldn’t do or say things online that we wouldn’t do or say face-to-face. Sure, maybe it’s easier to work up the courage to reconnect with people electronically, which I think is fine, but then don’t be afraid to follow it up with a conversation. Don’t just friend someone and let it fall by the wayside with your other 543 “friends”. What’s the point of that? How do we benefit from having hundreds of connections that we either block or hide from? On the other hand, don’t “friend” people you don’t really want to have a relationship with. Save that person the agony from over-thinking it (as I have here).
We sought shelter in coffee shops and later in bars. Same idea, different drinks I guess. We had our inner circle but being in public opened up possibilities; connecting with people that weren’t part of the original plan, as if we actually had a plan. It was before text messages, Twitter, My Space, and Facebook, and our social networks were old school. We rolled down windows, shouted out, made eye contact, and used tongues, not finger tips. But I was always eager to move beyond these confined social spaces. I guess I felt our spirits went beyond what was being served. I always craved the open spaces or the ocean and the sand to absorb what we had.My drug was the night. The inner circle left the coffee shop and drove to the over pass. We parked and walked under, into the open reserve to open skies and stars, cool air, and heightened senses. I didn’t want to dull my senses, I wanted them turned on. I wanted our minds to be stimulated by what we heard and smelled and felt, not just what we saw. We used to tread over grassy hills and under oak trees and our only concern was the night ranger that rarely came. Being outside gave us the opportunity to really hear each other which led us to really talk to each other. It was as if we had to get out in the open to be open. I learned more and shared more on these nights than I did in a year of daytime conversations. Then the spaces changed. There were house parties, more drugs, and of course bars. And though I enjoyed the social lubricant of alcohol, I was still drawn to something larger. I didn’t want drugs that made me see colors or images that weren’t normally there. I didn’t see why I needed that when there were plenty of naturally occurring mind-fucks like fear and love and people you didn’t understand, and I knew I hadn’t even begun to experience these. I used to drive around in the early morning hours by myself, listening to The Roots, and when I thought of something that I was afraid of I went to it. I would drive to the beach by myself and walk across the sand, defenseless, with my sight dulled by darkness and my hearing rendered useless by deafening waves. I would walk to the water line and imagine all the scary shit out there, then walk slowly into the freezing water up to my knees. I would stand there, alone, the ocean swirling around me and only the stars to watch over me. I imagined jelly fish and sharks and weird squishy things. I would stand there even though my whole body was screaming for me to run back to the dry sand, up the hill to the safety of the street and my car. But I resisted cause I was high; I was fucked up on fear. I was afraid as shit but I stayed with it and then calmly walked away. Talk about mind altering. Just about everyone I know has done more drugs than me and I really have no problem with that. We still go to coffee shops and bars, and some of us still do plenty of drugs. I know that has its place. But as I watch my kids grow up I’m constantly reminded of how rich reality is and I’m not ready to let it go or be afraid of it or start living distantly. I want to really be in it, right up to my knees, with the ocean in front of me and only the stars above.
Everyone and their grandma (literally) are involved in social networks online, and it seems I hear the same themes over and over. “I don’t even know most of the people I’m ‘friends’ with” and “I’m afraid to post certain things because I don’t know who’s ‘listening'”. These complaints mostly pertain to Facebook, but I hear the same thing with Twitter. I once read that social networking should be “who you are amplified” but I feel like that is not what’s happening.
We’re afraid. We’re afraid to deny someone “friendship” or afraid to post that crazy article we read or thought we had because our co-workers are lurking. We’re afraid future employers will look us up online and find some off-color thing we posted and give us a big “HELL NO”. So we censor ourselves. Some of us just avoid posting anything personal altogether, and others only post personal things that are safe, like an interesting New York Times article. But that isn’t who we are, is it? We’re not neat little perfect people sensitive to all lifeforms and styles around us. We have opinions. We think silly, sick, annoying, funny, offensive, stupid things. Yes, we think smart, thoughtful, enlightened, special things too, but it’s the former that never see the light of social networking. And maybe that’s okay, but it’s not authentic. And while some of us are perfectly okay with our G-rated selves, many of us are annoyed that we feel like we have to censor, or bad things will happen.
So what? Well, without authentic experiences, what’s the point? Why bother? Yes we may glean some interesting knowledge through articles being posted, but we aren’t really connecting. No one in our networks know who we really are. Maybe that’s okay for you but I’m tired of it. I’m tired of worrying about what I say and trying to decide if this thing I just laughed out loud about would really be okay to share. I recently moved away frommy close friends and colleagues and my online social networks are my main connection to them. I want people to still get at least some of the flavor they had with me when I was looking them in the face. I don’t want to all of sudden become some watered down version of someone just because I’m afraid. Shit, if you’re scared, why participate at all? Why not push the boundaries a little and bring your personal flavor, along with your professional “acceptable” self, to the arena? It seems to me this world is craving something real, not something safe. Yes we may make mistakes or offend someone, but we’re all human and I think we’d be surprised how much imperfection people find alluring. Just because we can edit ourselves to the nth degree in these online social spaces before we hit “submit”, should we?
I feel if we find that balance and we are able to maintain our real selves online, then this online community we’re pretending to be a part of will actually become some sort of real community, not another trip to the grocery store with fake smiles and small talk about the weather.
I’m working on being authentic online, who’s with me? Fire away in the comments below.