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.