It is no secret that for the Facebook generation in this era of endlessly evolving technology and aggressively casual communication, there are no secrets.
As the daughter of two writers, I gave up long ago on guarding my opinions and experiences from appearing in print. That sort of vulnerability, though deeply personal, arose voluntarily. In recent years, however, it seems “personal” is no longer synonymous with “intimate.”
If you haven’t already since the start of this column, check your Facebook news feed. It is no doubt a colorful conglomeration of fun family photos from this afternoon’s barbecue, politically charged comments, “shares” of heartwarming videos, Bible verses, heavily filtered Instagrams of your co-worker’s mac-and-cheese, and nonverbal sentiments conveyed via emoticon, selfie or a string of consonants. Pfffft.
Now think back five, 10 years ago. How else would you have known about the minutia of your acquaintances’ lives? Surely Karen from accounting would have thought twice before speaking in tragically generic song lyrics to express her broken heart. Uncle Freddie’s radical ideologies would have remained a private embarrassment to be ignored at Thanksgiving, but once he tags you in a photo featuring the president dangling a baby over the magma of Mount Doom, your whole network of friends and associates freely views and interprets your association as they will.
If it ended with the Internet, I might be all right. For the most part, the sensible public has shown a measure of restraint in amalgamating the virtual and physical worlds. With the rise of social media and portable technology with which to access it, however, this restraint has been replaced with an eagerness to incessantly share every moment.
There is no shame in sharing. We should celebrate the promotion of human connection and communication. Globalization is the new pink, et cetera.
My issue is this: In mixing the faceless yet intimate culture of the Internet with the nondigital world, we seem to have misplaced our manners.
It is now commonplace to bring up someone’s divorce, vacation, bereavement or new diet in great detail and very much in public. In defense of the instigator, the other party did voluntarily announce this information, but despite the obvious accessibility of one’s ideas once shared online, some people tend to forget that they are sharing with both friends and anyone with a computer. In our aimless scramble to make ourselves known to the world at-large, we have become lost to it.
Our personal matters are no longer restricted to what our friends see on our online pages. What was once considered prying is now the springboard for (not-so) polite conversation.
Raised in the South, I find it difficult to respond to people with anything but smiles and “thank you’s” when my personal affairs enter the spotlight. On one hand, I am grateful for familiar faces who offer their support and encouragement. But on the other, I am befuddled in how to respond to their reaction to one of my mother’s Facebook posts from three weeks earlier.
I long for a conversation which contains no subject matter obtained digitally. Is it possible to speak without quoting a YouTube video? Is no man an enigma now that every image of him from age 14 onward is just a few clicks away?
The impersonally-personal sentiment of the Web isn’t bound to friends and family. A few months after my diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes, I was checking my blood glucose levels before a class. The cadet sitting across from me, with whom I’d never spoken, asked smartly, “What type of diabetes do you have?”
I answered, and she nodded knowingly. “My grandmother has Type 2.”
That was the extent of our exchange. We never spoke again. Part of me is grateful that someone even knows the difference between the two types (if you don’t, look it up now. It is your civic duty to be informed!).
The other part of me is offended and a little disturbed that before asking my name, she essentially asked about my insulin production. It is the same part that requests that my mother not post a status every time my sugar levels hit 98. It is the part that says, “I am more than a pancreas to feel sorry for! Ask me about my photography, my bracelet, something that I control and that expresses who I am!”
Remember learning to share in kindergarten? It did not mean throwing all of your toys at your neighbor whether they wanted to play or not. It was about letting go of something you hold dear in order to bring joy to someone else.
Let’s return to that subtle art. Sharing should be a special, intimate act of trust.
The entire class may eventually work together, but let’s start small. Whisper a silly secret behind a curtain of hair and a covered mouth. Smile a real smile in real time for only that friend to see. There are no secrets among friends. There are, however, plenty of opportunities to make more.
Just not from behind a keyboard.
Rachel Glazer is asophomore at the University of North Georgia. She fills in today for her mother, regular columnist Teressa Glazer, who is on vacation.