The internet has always intrigued and interested me.
I remember when my family first got a dial-up, external modem to connect our file cabinet sized computer to the ethereal thing called The Internet. Netscape provided a portal to unexplored locations like the AOL homepage and text filled webpages that your prayed didn’t have images on them lest you wait for 37 minutes for the page to load. I was fascinated by it.
But the real fun wasn’t on the internet. It was local bulletin boards. You would set your modem to dial some number which rang a computer in someone’s basement. Other people would do the same, and through the magic of the telephone wires, you would could talk with people. On your computer. Why would you want to sit in your living room with your face to a phone using your voice to talk to someone when you could sit in your living room next to a computer and type to talk to a person. This was advanced technology that
One of the bulletin boards I frequented scheduled a social event so that everyone could meet each other “IRL” as the kids say (that’s “in real life.” No, I’m not one of the kids as I had to google it, like most of the abbreviations on social media). I couldn’t drive yet, so my parents dropped me off at the park, and I bounded off to meet the people I had been conversing with while sitting in my living room. I’m not going to lie, I felt a little anxiety as I moved towards the smallish group of people surrounding a couple of picnic tables under the tree. While I had been conversing with these people for a couple of months, I knew very few real names and had no idea what anyone looked like.
Here’s where I should say something like, “To make a long story short…” but the reality is that the story is pretty short after the awkward introductions. I started looking for a way out. Nothing met my expectations. Not the people. Not the conversations. Not even the food. Truth be told, I was a 15 year-old punk. And truth be told, what was portrayed in the virtual world didn’t match the real world.
That’s the danger of social media.
I’ve been living in the online world a lot lately. Facebook, Twitter, blogging – it’s like I have this who life “out there.” I don’t even know where out there is, but it’s out there. This place where I have friendship and contacts and conversations that are a part of my life but separated from what I do on a regular basis. They are shaping me and informing me and challenging me, but they don’t eat with me and laugh with me. Sure, they “LOL” but I don’t hear the distinctive of the laugh that is unique to them.
I have this fear that, despite all the advancements in social media technology, it still isn’t just a big bulletin board. If we were to meet in a park on some summer day, would we know each other?
It’s so easy to cut and paste and edit and delete the online persona to make me exactly what I want me to be. Confident but not cocky. Compassionate but strong. Witty and authentic. Redemptively sarcastic – which I now dub a thing. Online, all it takes are some clicks and edits to present who I want to present. Being attractive is easier than ever.
Which makes vulnerability more difficult than ever. You see, online you can appear authentic without being vulnerable. Authenticity and vulnerability are not the same thing. But when they exist in the same space at the same time it is an unsettling-ly beautiful. When a person is authentically vulnerable in your presence, you cannot help but love them. The person. Not the pretense because the pretense has all but fallen away. All you are left with is the person. Very rarely does that happen online. Because online, we craft what we want to. We get to choose our words, our pictures, our friends, and our enemies creating an image of, not who we are, but all too often who we want to be.
My fear is that, due to our fear of being known, we will perfect our ability to edit ourselves to a more attractive version in real life. Because we all have that fear. People often point back to the garden and say, “Because of what happened there everyone has sin in their lives.” Which is true. All of humanity participates in sin’s reality. But we can also point back to the garden and the fig leaves and the shame and say, “See everyone is afraid of being known.”
In real life.
We fear being known.
So we edit, delete, cut, and paste ourselves some fig leaves to hide behind in fear.
The interwebs aren’t making it any easier to be vulnerable. They are making it harder. Social media isn’t making us more social, it is making us less social.
The secret to being known and loved is no different online than it is in real life. Vulnerability. The people who seem most alive and are most attractive are those who have the courage to be vulnerable. So maybe today we share one thing that makes us uncomfortable to share. Maybe today we edit less. Maybe today we don’t retake the selfie – hell, don’t take a selfie at all. Ever. Again. For humanity.
Maybe today we step into the fear.
photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonahowie/7910370882/”>Jason A. Howie</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>