We build community in wonderful ways–in person, online, via Skype. There are different types of communities, and it’s easy to think of them as the real world. Like going to a class reunion, a lot of the people we meet in our new communities are not the ones we think they are.
A friend of mine lives way out loud. She posts frequently on Facebook. Often. Lots. Maybe two dozen posts a day. What this does to her Facebook “friends” is allow them to think they know all about her. What it does to her is allow her to think that people like her. In general, the people who follow her on Facebook post positive, supportive comments to her updates.
And then, just like that, she posted something that offended several followers. They not only emailed her (yeah, they knew how to find that) but posted on their own timelines. My friend answered their email publicly on Facebook. Firmly putting them in place and rallying her friends to her cause. Frankly, I stayed out of all of it.
The fur flew and was followed by tears, mud-slinging, name-calling and general unhappiness and drama. Somewhere in all that, my friend wrote, “No one has a right to judge me because you don’t know anything about me.” Oh. But we do. She told us in those two dozen posts a day–about meals, wardrobe, change of hair color, house updates, political and religious activities, travel plans, vacations, kids’ weight, grades, and pet updates. I learn more about this person from Facebook than I do after knowing her for six years.
When she asked me what I thought, I was hard-pressed to offer total agreement. I empathized with her pain and embarrassment. I also think that what you put on the internet is there forever. And even if people are polite in the comments it does not mean they love you unconditionally. Or even tomorrow.
I think living out loud is fun and colorful and authentic. I also think having a private life is a good idea and no less authentic. But as much as blogs and Facebook and all the other social media is a gift and fun, it has a price, even if it is free. Maybe even because it is free. It’s not just her friends and frenemies who know about her life, it’s all the marketing companies as well.
Things, events, relationships and choices are rarely all good or all bad. They have benefits and downsides. And while I love social media, and have met many people who are interesting and fun to talk to, generous and smart, I don’t think of them the same way as people I know in person. Because I don’t know them in person. I know them as the person they present themselves as. And that can be a surprise–happy or not.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer and a creativity coach.