I’ll often hear people born earlier than 1993 say, Thank God there was no FaceBook when I was a teenager. Or, more accurately, I often see people post this on their social media space. They look back at the embarrassing things they did as teenagers, comparing it to the embarrassing things teenagers do now, and can only see one difference: back then, there was no photo evidence to post for the world to see.
There’s no doubt that technology, The Internet especially, has changed the way we interact. Face time is an application now more than a real thing and texting is an intimacy afforded to close friends while acquaintances are relegated to minimal interaction on whichever social media sites we frequent.
Because we spend so much time online, intimacy has become way easier to avoid altogether in any form, and the social skills of most young people are declining year after year. If you are a cafe blogger, you will get your social practice ordering lattes and maybe, maybe awkwardly flirting with the barista.
But there has to be some redeeming qualities of a technology that has so completely changed the way we live our lives. I’ve heard some. Access to information, of course, is the most frequently celebrated. And I’ve heard that it connects small town kids with culture and a wider group of possible peers. I also remember watching a Ted Talk about the fact that our brains are actually changing how they operate thanks to the extra space and energy we have because we don’t store facts or images anymore (though, in truth, I think this was presented as a bad thing). I’m sure you’ve heard other redeeming qualities.
In my mind, the way we perceive privacy and the necessary changes that will come after will be the greatest gift of The Internet.
When I was growing up, privacy was a given and a necessity in society. Something we were all entitled to as a human right until we did anything shameful. But as far as I can tell, we had a few concepts tangled together and sideways. Now that there are so many of us online who willingly share details about our life, we are changing the idea of privacy itself. Some are shocked and appalled that anyone would willingly share anything about themselves online where anyone can see it. Those people have bought into the myth of privacy.
See, I believe that privacy is an illusion. There is no privacy. What we’ve termed privacy for so long is actually a word that represents the concept of being respectful of others’ boundaries. In the fifties, for example, privacy meant that all of your neighbors knew the sordid details of your husband’s affair, but wouldn’t dare bring it up in your company. Privacy never actually meant that you could hide certain things about yourself.
The more judgment and anger and blame and people who are unaware of their own limits or weaknesses there is out there in the world, the more we feel a need to protect ourselves by not sharing. And there are hateful, cruel people out there who, because of their own insecurities or mental illnesses, are more than happy to use anything you share about yourself to humiliate you in some way or another. Which is why you’d want to share with some and not others, or to only share non-intimate details with the world. But we never could control who knew what about our lives. Only those with no friends, no parents, no family, no teachers, no partners, no co-workers – nobody – would be safe from tongue slips or hateful gossip or spiteful rumors. Not one single person, short of using some seriously disgusting and well-honed manipulation techniques, can control what people think about him or her.
This concept of privacy was underscored by the promise of being shamed by neighbors and family if you did something that was considered unsavory. Shame is one of the antiquated ways in which groups of people keep others in check.
But communities don’t work that way anymore. And shame is not an effective means of controlling anyone who has fortified him or herself with self love.
And now, the resilient sharers of the online world are showing us a new way. We can share and not give a fuck what other people think. We can create boundaries – yes, boundaries online! – about who is allowed to comment on our space and what kind of comments we will allow. And these resilient sharers are growing in numbers. Soon, the norm will be sharing. And leaping even further into the future, one day, seeing humans through compassionate eyes will be the norm. (I’m not giving any technology credit for that wave – it’s all humans.) And when that day comes, there will be no more need to be private or to cling to an antiquated idea of privacy, because shame will not be the norm. The norm will be to call out or shut down those who cling to shaming and blaming.
The Internet is calling us to take back the responsibility of sharing ourselves in our own voices and of creating boundaries to keep ourselves safe and healthy. Even more exciting, online we have a chance to practice enforcing these boundaries all the time. And writing online can be a catalyst to knowing ourselves better – at least knowing what we will and will not accept from others.
Maybe it’s exactly what we needed to bring an end to a time when our social skills were there – ya, we met face to face – but also lacking in a few key areas.