I have a friend who is incredibly bright and well-spoken. She works for the New York Times as a journalist (nbd), in a capacity that deals largely with technology. She has a theory about the internet: That our relationship to the internet (independent of our age) is that of a teenager. Think about it...we’ve only been using this sucker for fifteen, maybe twenty years (Google opened its first office in 1998!). And so we are all growing up alongside, and in relation to, it. And right now, we’re stuck in our teen years. And the teen years are the worst! Apologies to any teenagers reading this, but they are. And that is good and right and as it should be. Those years (and the ensuing awfulness) is a necessary part of human development--of growing into adulthood. It is when and how we figure out boundaries...by testing them. It is when and how we figure out values... by experiencing cruelty and unkindness. Never again will so many people approach the internet with the attitude and curiosity and smugness of a teenager...in the future, only teenagers will do that. Which means, right now, online we’re all just still figuring it out.
What is okay to share? And what is not? What is the value of privacy versus the need for an online presence? What is too much and what is not enough? Does everything require our comment? And do all these things that are meant to aid in connection only serve to alienate us? What does it mean to be transparent online? And should we be?
A few weeks ago David Brooks (who is quickly becoming one of my favorites) wrote an op-ed for the New York Times entitled, The Lost Language of Privacy. In it he says,
"Privacy is important to the development of full individuals because there has to be an interior zone within each person that other people don’t see. There has to be a zone where half-formed thoughts and delicate emotions can grow and evolve, without being exposed to the harsh glare of public judgment. There has to be a place where you can be free to develop ideas and convictions away from the pressure to conform. There has to be a spot where you are only yourself and can define yourself...
All these concentric circles of privacy depend on some level of shrouding. They depend on some level of secrecy and awareness of the distinction between the inner privileged space and the outer exposed space."
I recently read a blog post by someone I quite admire in which she admitted that she’d kept something from her readers. She spoke of feeling the need to be an open-book and what was owed. And while I was certainly glad to digest whatever she felt the need to share, I didn’t feel she owed it to me. She hadn’t pretended something was other than it was, she just hadn’t shared a particular thing. And she really didn’t need to--I, for one, don’t feel entitled to her private truths.
I write about my life. And I do it online, because, well, free publishing. I write about my experiences and I do it all through my particular lens, cracked and flawed as that lens may be.
I write about my life, but the facts of my life are not for public consumption.
I don’t want to give away my private truths because I feel compelled to do so by others, or because they are things I think “readers” are owed. Rather, if there is something to share--private or not--I want to write about it because I see value in that. Value in getting the words out, and value in knowing that others might see it.
However, I am a huge advocate for transparency and authenticity in what is shared online. Others will think this is not needed, or not the point, and that speaks to their value system and I get it, I totally do. Their value system doesn’t have to line up with mine. But if the purpose of the internet is to actually connect us, then I do believe authenticity is needed. Because the flip-side of authenticy is not a neutral thing (at least, I don’t think it is)... it’s alienation. And that is a dangerous thing.
Years ago, when The Social Network came out, writer Zadie Smith wrote a brilliant article asking if we weren’t all bending to the technological platform (Facebook), as opposed to asking the platform to rise to us--a social platform that was created, it’s worth noting, by a college sophomore: a teenager. Our lives are not productions. And they are not brands.
I want more from blogging. I want the medium to rise and meet the best of us. And maybe it’s impossible, but I’d sure like to try.
In this spirit I’ve asked some people that I think very, very highly of to write honestly about filling in the picture--zooming out from the 4x4 instagram allotment. Because happiness--that cultural dicate--doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It is given meaning and value by what is hard and scary and feels bigger than us.
And usually it is in what is hard and scary and bigger-than-us that we find that thing we all claim to be in search of: connection.
so tomorrow: this lovely lady and her incredible words...