Thursday, January 19, 2017

Social me-dia

There is already a wall. Well, there has historically been a wall, but it is crumbling, and I'm not talking about the one between church and state. I mean the wall between our personas. Who we are behind closed doors, or within our heart of hearts, or with those we trust, vs. who we are in public.

Maybe I'm talking about the facade we adopt in certain situations and the code changing we engage in when presenting ourselves to different viewers. Maybe I'm talking about the lyrics to Billy Joel's The Stranger (or, to a lesser degree, The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby). But whatever it is, it is a sense that we draw a line between what the world sees and what we are. Is that a good thing? Yes and no -- I'm not advocating insincerity and dissimulation. I am encouraging a sense of privacy which helps distinguish between what is open for all and what is for a select few, or none.

I saw an article online today about a girl whose mother threw her a party for the onset of her menses. My concern there isn't that the family chose to celebrate a milestone, but that the family publicized their decision on Twitter and Facebook. [BTW, a quick google of "the death of shame" didn't bring up what I was thinking about, but I vaguely recall an article from years past about "isn't anyone ashamed anymore"] I am not saying that people need to feel embarrassed of their bodies or their bodily functions. I don't want people to feel vilified because of their physiology, but it just seems to me that not everything is automatically for public consumption. I don't need to know if your bowels are regular, or what color your phlegm is. I don't need to know your ovulation cycle or your sexual predilections. These things aren't bad, and, yes, they define who you are, but they are subjects to be shared with a select few -- not the whole world.

That wall protects us. It is bolstered by words like "overshare" and acronyms like TMI. That wall keeps us as private people and prevents us from overstepping bounds on a first date. Some things just aren't fodder for conversation in polite society -- SNL is satire, people, not a trendsetter deciding what makes for acceptable small talk. It points out what is wrong, not what should be right. It pushes boundaries so that we remember that they exist, not so that we abandon them.

Under the law there is an important distinction between public and private people. If we make it a practice to tell the world about every sneeze or the quality of every time we pass gas, how can we expect any right to privacy or to maintain our claim as a private person? We bemoan colleges' or prospective employers' practices of reviewing our online presence when making decisions about our fates. We tell our children not to post embarrassing or incriminating statements or pictures because "the internet is forever" (which, by the way, it isn't). But we put every selfie out there when troll for likes. We want public approbation and validation while still expecting that we have a right to be left alone.

I work hard to craft a public character. I have to decide what you will know about me and what you won't. You see what I want you to see and it may or may not be identical with the person I "really" am when I show myself off in various stages of real life. Different people who see me online from different angles will see a different person; at least that's my intent. And sometimes I fail at that. But I have not dropped all pretense and decided to publicize my every move, meal and mood. If it looks that way then I am doing a good job at shaping my own PR. But I get the sense that other people are not trying to be as wilfully crafty in their selection of detail to fly high for all to salute.

If and when I meet the girl for whom the menarche party was thrown, can I ask her about her period right off? She has chosen to make her privates public. When I see someone who has taken a selfie to promote her prominent backside, can I start the conversation with something focused on her appearance? She has chosen to make that what I see and how I should judge her, so I'm not the misogynistic pig, right?

The advent of social media has given us all a voice, and that's fabulous. I can rant about the trivia which annoys me. You can post a video of a goat saying "I love you" and another person can post news about his experiences in a totalitarian regime -- news that would be choked off by official news venues. But having a voice also means knowing when not to speak, or at least, when to whisper.

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