You are a unique human being. You have a lot of thoughts and things to say. Trust me. I know the feeling.
Social media have changed the way we express ourselves. They provide virtual spaces where many of us feel free to say what we really think, and show who we really are. But does the exercise of this freedom come at the expense of character?
Am I committed to the lively discussion which my politically-charged statements will undoubtedly stir up? Is it treason to your gentle, patient soul that, in person, you may smile and nod at someone difficult, then unleash a tweetstorm of rage against her later in the day, secretly basking in the sympathetic attention you perceive, one “like” at a time?
Personally, I would re-brand twitter as the “Best Way to Offend More People Faster.” (Can we shorten that to “BWOMPF?” It’s almost onomatopoeic!)
Practically speaking, we all benefit from discernment when choosing what to share. While most people probably appreciate a lighthearted laugh, inspirational quote or pretty picture, you may have facebook “friends” who shouldn’t know of your children’s potty-training mishaps. Maybe you have followers whom you would not personally invite to hear your incisive State of the Union Address. Remember your great aunt Mildred, whom you “couldn’t afford” to invite to your wedding? Well, do you really want her to see the professional photos of the monogrammed champagne flutes and gold-plated flatware, which you somehow could afford? We all need to get things off our chest from time to time. Dumping it on everyone in your news feed is not the only way, or even a good way.
So how can we be both free and true to ourselves in the virtual realm? I propose the C&K method, also called the Auditorium Test.
Imagine you are onstage in front of an auditorium full of people you know. This is your facebook audience.
Here’s the step-by-step guide:
- Have an important thought, opinion, or story.
- Stand in front of a mirror. Lock eyes with yourself. Say that thing out loud. Do you still think it’s important? Did speaking it make you feel good? If the answer to both these questions is “yes” then move on to step 3.
- Close your eyes. Imagine you are on a stage before an auditorium full of people you know. If you are moderately sociable like me, that includes close friends and family, but also your distant uncle, sister-in-law’s mother, a former high school teacher, previous roommates, colleagues, an ex or two and many nearly forgotten classmates. Fill in any empty seats with lots of passing acquaintances, like tourists you encountered in passing, or fellow airplane passengers. Way in the back you can almost make out the face of that dude you met briefly at a concert over a decade ago. Somehow there are also faces you can’t name at all, but they’re vaguely familiar. This is your facebook audience. Breathe.
- Open your eyes. Hold up your microphone. Use a hairbrush if that helps you visualize. I prefer a balloon whisk. Again, breathe. Deep breaths.
- Remember the thing you wanted to say. Would you like to say it out loud to that auditorium? Would you be interested in their reactions? If the answer to both those questions is “yes,” then congratulations! You’re the same open, conversant person online as you are in real life. Proceed to your keyboard. Happy posting! Tweet your heart out!
If the answer to any of the questions was “no,’ that doesn’t necessarily mean you should stuff it. Rather than repressing your thoughts, let your discomfort motivate you to focus, hone and perfect your message until it’s something you would unflinchingly share face-to-face with anyone you know.
Instead, you may just decide to limit your audience to a select few, or to closed groups. Remember though, that “www” stands for “world-wide web.” This is a place for spreading information, not hiding it. No privacy setting here is impervious and everyone in your audience has access to another audience over which you have no control.
Alternatively, you may choose a different forum in which to express yourself. I personally find this blog a fitting place to articulate my opinions at leisure, but I am still prepared to discuss them with the few attentive souls who read as thoroughly as you have just now.
For a true move towards radical honesty, I might join my local chapter of Toastmasters and learn to address a real auditorium as confidently as I address my virtual one. From my perspective, its not about attention, just integrity. If I can’t take the heat for my opinions, or at least not up close and personal, do I really deserve any kind of platform?
Words can change the world. Your words matter. When you wield them, be true to both your audacity and your prudence. They each belong to you.
Finally, if you find yourself without a kind listener, if you feel isolated or lonely, then follow this blog, invite some acquaintances to dinner, or send a personal message. Above all, take heart! The war on loneliness is nigh.