Meaning-Making and Validation

It’s not enough to make meaning anymore. Because we aren’t sure it really is meaning. Unless, of course, we photograph it, put it on social media, and get approval. Then we’ve made meaning.

Crescent moon moving closer to Venus on a dark, February night. I saw it because I was outside. In the dark.

Crescent moon moving closer to Venus on a dark, February night. I saw it because I was outside. In the dark.

Popular culture shifts and changes–that’s what defines pop culture. But the biggest change in our lives (from my observation), is that something has to be photographed (or videod) and put online for it to matter. Somehow, we can’t have private meaning anymore. In fact, we can’t really be alone any more.

Without “likes” and comments, even negative ones, what we do doesn’t feel real,  doesn’t matter.

That’s why, when we see something surprising, beautiful, alarming, horrifying, we immediately grab out camera and experience it though our phones. Then post it. We crowd-source our emotions, our experiences, and eventually, our meaning-making. If people object, we change our minds. Maybe we didn’t have as much fun as we thought. Maybe we didn’t like that movie as much. Or maybe it was much more, depending on what reactions we get.

Some people I know Tweet all their reactions to watching TV. They post 20-60 tweets while watching Downton Abbey or the Oscars, waiting for friends to react to the show and the other tweets, to create an emotional background they cannot seem to create alone.

In a recent study, published by the Journal Science (and reviewed here in Time magazine) 67 percent of men and 25 percent of women would rather receive electric shocks (which they administer themselves) than be alone with their own thoughts.

We no longer trust our own emotions. We don’t even want to have them. We want approval so much more, that we are willing to put the most intimate parts of our life online and get a reaction to them, to validate ourselves. This weekend, I watched people post the following events online:

  • the death of a relative (with photos of the dead person)
  • a selfie of a crying woman (“I’m so sad right now.”)
  • the birth of a baby at home (with a photo of the emerging head)
  • new tattoos (complete with blood still flowing)
  • two FB posts from different emergency rooms
  • one FB post from an ambulance

oversharing1-300x210At some time, each of these events would have been thought of as too private to share. In fact, years ago, most people would have preferred to process the comlex emotions of these events with family (or alone) and not mention them to others until some time has passed. Not anymore. We aren’t real unless we are online.

I’m amazed (and will admit to being the right demographic for amazement) that we are so willing to give up every shred of privacy to validate our emotions. I’m not there yet.

Is it really so bad to have something happen unshared? Unphotographed? Undocumented? Do we not know what to feel until our FB friends tell us? I’ve quit posting my Sketchbook homework not because I don’t want to share, but because I want to experience what I feel about it before others tell me. It’s OK not to like something and not say anything. Or to enjoy it without sharing. Sometimes, it’s wonderful to not share your thoughts.

–Quinn McDonald feels completely OK making meaning on her own and not sharing it.




22 thoughts on “Meaning-Making and Validation

  1. This is the first time I have responded to one of your blogs.

    Okay, I respond regularly saving them, by nodding my head, by whispering “You Go Girl!” . . .

    But this is the first time I am writing a response And my response is:THIS IS WHY I READ YOUR BLOGS FAITHFULLY. This candor, this willingness to say what I am thinking or have thought, this is why I subscribe to your blog. This is why during a purge of unread emails, your blogs do not get purged. This is why I think sometimes that I have a sister from another mother who is living well in Phoenix.

    Thank you. Thank you just for being Quinn. You are breath of fresh air.

    Always, Wanda


  2. Insightful, important observations on how the media can become a substitute, however inadequate, for what cannot be said– it was Joseph Campbell who said “The best things cannot be told.” And the personal details of daily life are often just clutter. The quickness of tweeting, etc. promotes a sort of automatic mindlessness. Is it a form of electronic gossip?

    In the classroom I have also noticed that our manners have not caught up with technology– I feel a need to set boundaries so that one asks permission before photographing someone else’s work, and encourage everyone not to allow a piece of your work to be photographed unless it is ready. There is a gestation period involved in all creation, in all creative work. This limit feels similar to your cry for valuing privacy, and caring about what we do and what we create.

    Having said this, your photos at night are moving. I applaud your integrity in having regard for what is private, and bringing us back to the sky.

    • Want to see me fall off a chair and behave badly in a classroom, it is the assumption that everyone wants their face, their art, their ideas spread across FB, or that a classroom has to have music playing and that everyone enjoys the same kind of music. The big sky here in the desert is very special to me, and I often feel like it is a private cover for my thoughts.

  3. I can’t imagine not enjoying being alone with one’s own thoughts. I’ve always enjoyed my company. Even as a young child, I could entertain myself for hours making up games or squishing my toes in the mud.

    Since my Mom has been in the hospital, I’ve had a few people say that they will wait to get updates from me via Facebook. Really? Well, hold your breath because that isn’t happening. People will just have to wait for an old-fashioned phone call (or if they’re lucky, possibly a text).

    I have a relative that suffers from intense migraines but she regularly makes posts on FB when she’s checking into the hospital. What?!?? Trust me, I’ve suffered migraines and I wouldn’t even be able to look at a computer or smart phone, when in the throes of one.

    Sometimes I will post on Facebook in order to get responses from other people, to see if they have any ideas or suggestions (like my inability to sleep lately). I can take or leave the suggestions but at least I get food for thought. But never will I start posting about every minute-by-minute detail of my life…good or bad. I don’t need validation that badly. Not now, not ever!

  4. Great post, and in general I agree. Definitely have noticed that people don’t want to be alone with their thoughts – however, I noticed that at least a decade before the Internet, and two decades before social media became a popular activity. There’s always a way to stay out of your head – books, the radio, compulsive (fill in the blank) – even good things can be used to avoid the necessary work of facing one’s inner thoughts.

    However, I appreciate social media for its ability to connect me with like-minded people, around the corner and around the world. As someone who has been an outlier since birth, I’m capable of making meaning on my own. And I can certainly share it offline. But I’ve found additional opportunities to connect with people who find my personal meaning-making meaningful to them, as well, and I cherish that.

  5. I think being alone and loneliness are misunderstood, hence the rabid sharing. Sometimes I sit in peace and quiet and think how unbelievably fortunate I am . . . and I don’t share it because beng alone is a part of it.

    And I stopped sharing so much of my work in a group because it wasn’t helpful in moving my work forward . . . it’s more of a sharing and “oh that’s wonderful” sort of comment. When I take a class I want my work critiqued . . . perhaps we need a class on how to do that. I blogged recently about teaching 13-year-olds how to do it and using the same myself . . . would it be too much to expect? I guess in a ‘me, it’s all about me’ world it is.

    The link:

    • Good blog post. When I take a class, I don’t EXPECT to like what I do, and I often need guidance. Not the instructor taking over, not fake praise, but guidance. And that’s what your method gets across.

  6. Well written and thought provoking. There are times that I’ve gone further down that slippery slope of sharing/posting than I should. Your “yield” sign is well taken.

  7. Amen, and Amen! I rarely check in on FB anymore simply because I don’t care to see the moment by moment drama (or lack of) of other’s lives. A fight with your spouse? Talk to him and work it out; don’t post it on FB for all your friends to see. Proud of the results of your butt-toning exercise routine? Good for you, but I don’t want to see up-close photos of your posterior! A little common sense here, folks.

  8. Wonderful post. I have been thinking so much about this while privately processing (as much as possible) my recent accident. It seems so weird to me that someone posts a death or injury on Facebook and people click “Like”. I understand that they are giving support, but what’s to “Like”? My biggest problem with social media is that communication is being broken down into smaller and smaller bits until all real meaning is lost. Thanks for another thought provoking post while I have the time to think.

    • I’m so sorry about your accident; I hope you are back to your wonderful creative work quickly. I love social media most of the time, but when we get down to tiny details, with photos, well, TMI.

  9. Very well put. I am also of the generation that is amazed by the public sharing of every little thing. Not that I don’t enjoy the social media, but I don’t need so much information from everyone. Besides those little bits of ourselves that are private, that are personal, that are secret – that is what makes us unique – that is what makes us a person. There doesn’t seem to be any need to ‘get to know’ anyone anymore. You can find out everything by watching their social media stream.

  10. Great article. I predict in the future there will be laws passed to protect children from parents who post intimate deals of their child’s life on FB.

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