The Internet, 'Keeping It Real' & Other Conversations I'm Bored of Having.
I was thinking about something I read in Liz Gilbert's 'Big Magic' the other day about the enchantment of 'ideas' and how they chase after us, hoping we'll pick them up and work with them. If we don't oblige, often they leave us and find someone else who will work with them - the idea can literally pass us by. Does this theory make ideas sound like little ghosts swirling about the atmosphere? Yes. Does it make sense and so I'm going with it? Yes. So many times I've had an idea for something only to fob it off, be too afraid of it or just been too busy to pursue it and it has landed at the feet of someone else. I'm trying to be a bit more OK and less resentful with that happening, and a bit more proactive about the ideas that I know are hounding me to be taken up. Something that has been on my mind a lot (call it an idea if you will) is the conversation that keeps popping up about how we perform online. I know this conversation is chasing me because it has appeared as a talk-point at various dinners, radio shows, on videos and blog posts I've been coming across for a while and I've got a few thoughts on it that I want to jot down here (this is me submitting to the idea that is chasing me).
The way I see it there are mainly two camps in this conversation about how we are living our lives online:
Camp One is very keen to keep it real. Camp one rolls their eyes a lot about how people portray their lives online, claiming smugness around every corner. This camp finds themselves comparing their own lives to other people's lives because of what they see on facebook and they come up short every time and then end up wanting to boycott it all. There is a lot of talk about how it's important to be honest and finding fault in things like 'The Motherhood Challenge' because it pits people against one another online and makes some people feel inadequate.
Camp Two is happy to use the internet as a place of curation, of only really sharing moments that are good and happy. This camp mostly looks too good to be true and rubs camp one up the wrong way - these camps love and hate each other in equal measure. They can't help themselves. Sometimes camp two can come across as aloof, patronising or trying too hard. There can seem to be an agenda with every interaction lurking in the background, making people suspicious but also intrigued.
I have been in both of these camps, feet firmly in the hot soil of them, thinking just like my camp co-habiters and I'll tell you what, neither camps have felt like home to me - and here's why:
What I've realised is that I owe the internet absolutely nothing.
I don't owe it my perfection and I don't owe it my vulnerability.
I came across this article the other day and I whooped a sigh of relief to read some common sense on this. I wrote a little about social media and the empathy deficit around it a while back and I still believe that too much online interaction can leave us less tolerant and more skeptical of each other. It doesn't have to be this way! I truly believe we must give a wide space of understanding around what we read or observe about each other's lives online. It's the only way we can gain perspective and see it for what it is.
I wish we could all come to a place where we were wise enough to understand that there is far more to the story than what we ever read or see. Always. How are we not wise enough yet about the reality behind online appearances? Surely we can all view or read things with knowledge that only part of a picture is being projected and be OK with that understanding? My friend, Emma (from Life at the Little Wood) put it really well in this post after we had a long brunch chat about this whole thing.
Ironically, I don't think I divulge much more online as a blogger than most people do over their facebook or twitter statuses these days. We're all microbloggers really, aren't we? We are all sharing snippets of our lives, our loves, our interests in 140 characters or through a picture. However still, I can't tell you how many passive aggressive comments I get about this blog ("Oh, she's got her camera out - this'll be going on the blog"), or about what I put on Instagram ("Here comes the Queen of Hashtags" - ugh) - people remark about the things we post online in a way that tries to shame and it's all got a bit boring, hasn't it?
I hope you know that just because I post a nicely lit picture of some cookies that I made with my son that the experience itself wasn't perfection? I just like nice pictures. Anyone who bakes with their kid will know that the hour we spent doing that was a lot of me picking eggshells out of the batter and trying really hard to not huff and sigh over oats being poured on the floor instead of into the mixing bowl? Just because a picture of oats on my floor didn't make its way onto Instagram doesn't mean my life is some sort of happy clappy parenting dream! Surely we are past making those kinds of crazy assumptions/judgements?
Want to post pictures of your kids running through meadows like they are hallowed angels - DO IT. We all know that one of those angels will be tough to get to bed later on. Beautiful pictures are beautiful pictures - that is all.
Want to share a funny story on facebook about how you walked about with your knickers tucked into your skirt after a trip to the loo in Tesco? - DO IT. We've all embarrassed ourselves at some stage - we can commiserate and still know you're still a kick-ass professional most of the time.
Want to tell us all about your misfortune, your exciting new job, your really amazing husband, your sorrow about losing a loved one, your passion for a cause? - DO IT. We can enjoy finding common ground with you. We don't have to think you are being isolating, smug or offensive just because your sharing doesn't relate and after all, we aren't passive consumers - if we don't enjoy your sharing we can always unfollow or hide.
I love honesty and vulnerability so much. I pride myself in having some really brutally honest and painfully vulnerable relationships in my life. These are with my trusted people that can hear my voice, see my eyes and not with the internet masses and that's OK. I can have integrity with what I share without baring my soul. Our vulnerability is precious and not to be handled by everyone.
I'm not here to create a third camp or a fresh set of rules, because Lord knows that's not what we need but I do feel some common sense around the conversation might be due.
Here's my own rule of thumb - maybe it will help:
+ Things are never how they seem online. This is my lens, this gives me grace for other people and myself. I will always try to use this lens.
+ I will not be mean/jealous/purposefully offensive. If someone offends me, I can choose not to interact.
+ I should put whatever I want online and give not one damn whether I am in camp smug or camp real. That kind of over-thinking KILLS creativity and prevents me from doing what I love.
What do you think? Have you found yourself in either of these camps? Could you use a little freedom from the expectations of others online? I'd love to hear your thoughts.