Have you ever been out at a restaurant with friends when you unexpectedly run into a coworker? Let’s make it even more awkward and say you run into your mom too. And let’s say the waiter is from a highly, specified Internet niche you belong to, like “people who knit Smurf clothes in the style of Revolutionary War heroes.” Suddenly, your head begins to explode as your try to draw a mental Venn diagram determining what shades of your personality you’ve shown to each group. Then you realize there is utterly no overlap between all the groups. You have absolutely no idea how to act. Should you be the amusing office serf? The dutiful daughter? Or should you start a conversation about the gender dynamics in Smurf society caused by Smurfette being the only female Smurf?
This is how I’ve felt lately about social media, be it my blog, Twitter or Facebook. I’ve got people from my work sphere, friend sphere, casual-acquaintance sphere, weight-loss sphere, headache sphere and lots of other spheres watching me in all these places. I’ll start composing a Tweet in my head and then I’ll remember a potential client might be reading, so I really shouldn’t say that. Then I’ll log into Facebook to post it, because I can limit my friends’ access, but then I’ll remember that Facebook privacy settings are more confusing then that Venn diagram I tried to draw in my head. So, it’s not really safe to post it there since the wrong person might see a part of my personality that it’s best they don’t see. I’ll think about writing a blog entry about it, but then I start anticipating all the comments the post might get and the numerous ways people might misunderstand what I say, so I don’t even bother. Which leads me to wonder, where can I share all this stuff I want to say? My best answer—a password-protected Word file. That or a padlocked diary.
When I first started blogging, my site was pseudo-anonymous, which was rather freeing. I felt like I could write anything at all and share ideas and feelings I never shared anywhere else. I felt like my blog was a place where I was understood. Now…I feel like my blog is a place where I’m misunderstood. I don’t feel like I can share much at all. What used to feel like freedom feels more like a cage, one that I built myself. One of the appeals of the Internet is that it allows people to share lots of information, but what I’ve found is that I don’t necessarily want to share all my information. Once, way back when, the Internet seemed to be a magical fairyland where we could all be our authentic selves, unhindered by race or gender. But I’ve come to realize the Internet is just like any other place, and the old social conventions that are at play in the real world rule the cyberworld too.
I’m not blaming anyone for this and it’s not my intent to complain about it either. It is what it is. (Tautology, for the win!) I’ve certainly benefited in many ways from my social media connections, and even though there is overlap, there are some things I can still say to everyone. I just think our online social networks have become as complex as our offline social networks. They’re intermingled, actually. So, just like I wouldn’t tell my old coworkers intimate details about my menstrual cramps, I have to remind myself not to share too much in certain online spheres either. Except, all my online spheres seem to have blended into one, big, lopsided ball, and I don’t feel like I can share much that is personal and overwhelmingly “me,” since the wrong person might see it. I’m left to rather bland observations or mundane comments. I’m left to second-guessing and overthinking. I’m left to wonder if it’s even worth it to post an entry like this, which will probably be misunderstood in some way I haven’t even anticipated yet.