Earlier this year I did a pretty narcissistic thing. I ordered one of those Facebook “books” that compiles all of your activity from a set period of time, I chose 2014, and then prints it as a book. Turns out I generated over 300 pages of content in 2014 just from my Facebook and Instagram activity. Yikes! Well, ok, a good chunk of the “content” was actually comments from my friends on different things I had posted. Hey friends, guess what, you’re published authors now! Congrats!
It was pretty fascinating to look at my life/self/world through that window. Print has its place. There is a “realness” to physical objects that digital just can’t compete with — at least not quite yet. But it also made me a gag a little. “Does the world really need this much 'Jeb'?” I thought. My conclusion — probably not.
Recently I took off the month of July — from work, email, calendars and, yes, Facebook and its ilk. I deleted all the apps on my phone and began to separate from the “grid”. At the end of this month I found myself more relaxed, calmer and happier. I started to lose that habit of checking my phone all the time — email, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, back to email, text, etc. My phone and all its tagalongs slowly became less and less a part of my being. It was awesome. I felt more alive.
When I returned to work I re-entered the world of email out of necessity but have kept social media at an arms length. I’m at something of a crossroads right now. What and how much should I share? Why am I sharing? Which conversations are best had in-person, which ones online?
I have struggled with how exactly to put my toe back in the social media waters. I don't want to come across as "judgey" or stingy to people in my life that I truly care about but I also don't want to accept an inferior experience as the experience. This is one of the problems with digital experiences. You don't have a lot to work with. Just imagine me here, right now, moving my hands around and leaning forward as you read this. Hard to do, right? Digital communication fundamental sucks. At least at this point. It strips out 90% (made up stat) of what is actually being communicated. Body language, energy, tone, pheromones, etc. Calling it "communication" is being generous. It's more like a black and white print of a Van Gogh. Nothing you would want to frame.
Ever have that experience where you see a friend after a while and you start catching up but pretty soon you realize there isn’t much to catch up on? You have both been following each other online and already know the stories. For me, this has been a common experience over the last few years. It deflates the moment we are sharing. I love hearing a friend tell me a story. I love hearing it straight from them for the first time. It’s a core human thing — to sit with someone and tell stories. But we are all telling our stories to everyone, all the time. This isn't what sharing should be. It should be person to person, everyone fully present.
So for now, I’m being very selective about what I share. I have increasingly come to see online/digital/social sharing as diluting. Beauty, happiness, fun, sadness, pain. They are all basic human experiences. Sharing them doesn’t make them more real. In my experience sharing often makes things feel less real, turns moments into performances. Sharing is certainly part of being human, but a part does not make one whole. If we rewire ourselves to have sharing as a default what will we be sacrificing in the process? Will our own voice grow more faint as the outside voices crowd in?
Who knows where this will all go — the massive experiment we are engaged in, sharing our lives at a depth and rate like never before. There are good things about this – increased visibility and understanding into how people live – but there must be balance. We must honor our humanity above all else.