Tuesday, January 19, 2010

a tuesday rant

I find it odd, and entirely disheartening, that our generation has lost the ability to keep healthy boundaries. I’m not talking about sexual boundaries; although those have certainly lost their footing, they’ve been discussed so much it’s become cliché to even mention them. What I am talking about, however, are the natural boundaries that form in social settings, relationships, friendships and interpersonal interactivity. We have lost the ability to keep any mystery about ourselves; gone are the days of time-built-trusts, rampant are the rules of fast vulnerability. This is due, in large part, to the internet. (*disclaimer* although I hate generalizing commentaries on “the internet”, “our generation”, and “society”, I am about to write one. Hypocrisy: one, Ashley: zero)

Ironic, I suppose, that a girl such as myself would be writing (or ranting) in opposition to this grown trend. From the outside: I have a public persona, in a sense. I have a blog that I update regularly, I have a twitter account, I have facebook, I have a myspace (although it’s entirely inactive and archaic) – truth be told, I’ve been plugged in at some point to almost every social media site available to humans (almost). So what am I saying? Isn’t it hypocritical of me to harp on the readiness of our world to be viewed in the public eye? Perhaps. But I like to think there’s a difference – and this is what I’m getting at. I’ll use my blog as an example. You are here, and you are reading what I’m writing. This is your choice, for certain – and it is my choice to post here in the first place – but the confusion comes when those readers I don’t know assume they know me well because they read my blog. Fact: I have a deep seated love and appreciation for every reader – each visit on my tracker sends a little chill of affirmation up my spine and makes me giddy with appreciation for you – but at the same time, there are some of you that I don’t know very well, and likely won’t know soon, either. Let me assure you – whatever I post here is 100% genuine, I don’t lie. But I do edit. I keep myself in check here, because I remember who I’m writing to: whoever wants to read it.

This admission seems rude, doesn’t it? Sure, we all do it…but admitting it out loud feels like something else entirely, which is why I am currently having so much trouble with the way our society seems to be running. My next example, and the root of my current inner turmoil is (can you guess it?) – facebook.

Oh, facebook.

On the one hand, I love it. As a former student, I have friends so near and dear to my heart that now live literally all over the world. Facebook provides a space we wouldn’t otherwise have – a space to share photos, daily activities, and the general goings-on that make life feel a bit more normal (as if they weren’t across an ocean). As the only daughter to move away from my home city, Facebook provides that space again: a way to stay connected to my family on a daily, visual basis; a way to feel included, even when I’m not there. Finally, as a friend to friends in my vicinity, facebook has proven to be an incredibly useful tool for communication; staying up to date on current social events and activities, and making fast arrangements over the internet.

So what’s my issue? My issue, I suppose (and this is where I start to sound heartless), is when it comes to people that I don’t know well: Facebook makes me draw a line. Because really, is there a spot to keep my mom in the loop and my new acquaintance? My mom is certainly privy to far more detailed information than someone I’ve just met, and rightly so. My sisters have a far greater entitlement to know what’s going on in my head than that guy I met at a birthday party last April. My best friends mean more to my heart than a one time visitor to my blog. And what about someone I don’t know that is in my friend circle? They’re in my friend suggestion box, but I still don't want to add them.

The problem with all of these sentences is that they are too cut and dry. But as it stands, these distinctions are now a matter of force and forefront – I can’t not think about which “category” to place a person in. Full profile? …Limited profile?…blocked? Instead of the natural growth that was once a part of friendships, it suddenly becomes a matter of definition and rule. Over the past year (and I’ve advertised it, so you likely know this) I have seriously debated giving up Facebook altogether. Mainly because I feel like I’m alone in this: I have boundaries. I do not enjoy the fact that it’s now customary to say, “Hi, nice to meet you, let me in to your life entirely” - a summary of what happens when you hang out with someone three times and they request your “friendship” on fb. I also do not enjoy the amount of times I’ve insulted people by saying, “actually, no, I don’t want you on my facebook.” People. It’s facebook. Hardly insult worthy. You know what I say when people I don’t know well don’t add me or delete me? I say “Oh, okay.” Because I recognize that (shocker) I probably don’t mean as much to them as their best friends and their sisters. Granted, I like these people. As I like the people that I don’t add. These people are all nice and lovely and fascinating and I’m sure as I get to know them better, I will like them even more.

But this is what I mean when I say I am alone with my boundaries: it actually insults people to ask them to give me time to let them in. And I’m left feeling like the bad guy, the heartless snob, the cold decision maker. But you know what? I’m none of those things. I’m actually very nice, and I love people. How is this communicated to a generation (boo…generalization…) that does not understand what it means to know someone in real life and not on the internet? It’s impossible. To meet someone is to add them to facebook, apparently.

It used to be natural. It used to be normal, even. But now, to want space and safety means to draw harsh lines and make people feel on the outside. This is the part of social media that makes me want to “spit nails” as I so sweetly wrote to a friend earlier today…I am at a loss.

Related afterthoughts: anonymous is the new black.


Anonymous said...

Ashley, I love LOVE this post! We're semi-aquaintances...both went to the same college, and had mutual friends (But don't worry, I won't be looking to add you to facebook!)
I've revised my "friends" list numerous times, and felt guilty about deleting people. I've ignored friend requests, not because I don't like them, but because we barely know each other and I don't want to share that much with them. I finally got rid of facebook this December 31st...(A new years resolution). Privacy and space were some of the reasons, along with the fact that I spent too much time on facebook in general. I now wonder how I'll hear about engagements, pregnancies, and any other news worthy items (good or bad) with my friends who communicate primarily through facebook. Facebook is so convenient and has many great features, but in my situation the cons outweighed the pros. I've also been wondering about the blurring line between the lives of celebrities and their fans via twitter! (I don't use twitter so I'm not 100% sure how it works.) Any thoughts on that?

Anonymous said...

ive really thought for a long time someone should come up with a "grey area" app for facebook....allowing this more natural boundry to exist on facebook as it does in "real life"
kind of a sliding scale from black to white where white is full access and black is...well "the new annonymous" Accordingly as you interact with people on facebook it could track your frequency of interaction and/or key phrases signaling the natural automatic move up and down and in-between, cause you know that "in-between" is the old grey ;-)
Ya---a grey area app for facebook---make it happen Ash!

Edwin Kehler Photography said...

Interesting post Ashley,
For me facebook has always been a surface level means of communication and I have never thought to use it as anything more. Certainly not the wall section. I use Facebook as a way to: connect with old friend/ acquaintances, stay in the loop with current friends/ acquaintances (surface level loop), to receive event invites & info, Self promote where appropriate (business stuff), etc.

To that means I don't write any long personal notes or overly deep status updates that I don't want my general circle of acquaintances to know.

Have you ever considered having two Facebook accounts? One for your family/ close friends and one for your wider circle of acquaintances? You could either create a fan page or a whole new account. Just wondering what your thoughts are on that and if you had considered it as an option.


Ryan André said...

Love this discussion. Anonymous is the New Black was a fantastic entry.

Some thoughts.

Maybe this has less to do with the internet and more to do with personality? Pure speculation. These are some random thoughts bouncing around my head:

I agree, people should think twice about what they let the world know on facebook because most don't use discretion (bosses/potential employers that stalk FB), but on the flip side - I don't care what I post and say because I know who I am and for the most part I don't care what others who don't know me too well think of me, especially when it comes to blogs, etc ... I try and exercise due caution that I will be understood properly (though I have a weird sense of humor and that doesn't always come across right). But if people take a FB status, comment or blog entry out of context, that is their own volition for not asking me directly for more info.

Even before the internet (yes, I'm that old haha) .. I've always been totally open about who I am - the things that I love and the struggles that I have. Maybe too much so, but in part, I feel transparency is something that lacks more then discretion in our culture. Sure, it may give strangers ammo against me at times, and on occasion I have eaten my words, but let's face it, I'm not perfect and don't pretend to be. Where is the value in pretending to be something that you are not?

The benefit as such is that people have always for the most part felt comfortable around me. Shallow is not in my vocabulary (though "I don't feel like talking to anyone right now" definitely is), and quite honestly, when it comes to FB, my friend's friend who I met last Christmas and stalks me on FB - if they actually care about what I am doing, then they have too much time on their hands and need to re-think life. :) If there's something I just want my family to see, I'll email, call or skype them.

That said, I think that hanging obscure pictures from your life on the wall of your living room for company to see and start conversation based on is a fantastic idea, and might cause people to be more cautious about what pictures they take in the first place. :) Would be interesting for sure!

Lastly, I don't think anyone should take personally the "I'd rather you not be my friend on FB" because really .. who cares? Is not life and my friends here and now more important then mere words on a screen? I wouldn't. But then .. I've never been one to be nostalgic even about some of my best friends. Where I am, I am, and that is where I give my all.

I have stated several times over on blogs or FB that if people want to discuss further something that coffee is the best place for that to happen. Real Life > Typing. Always.

I could go on, I'll leave it at that .. I understand what you were trying to say and I agree, and I don't. ;)

grace and peace,
ryan andré

Ryan André said...

Sorry for the two long comments here .. But I've been thinking about this all day. My previous comments were more just personal opinions and not very well thought out ... Apologies.. A healthy balance of transparency and discretion is definitely best. And I think I may have sounded rather arrogant, or like I do everything right .. I did not mean to in the least. *chuckle* I'm just opinionated and sometimes .. 'opinionate' without thinking through the ramifications or just for the sake of objectivity. I agree more then I stated.

But I can't my mind off this today because it is a really important discussion to be having ... (especially for me working with youth) .. so, though you don't know me, forgive me for using comments as a sounding board for my own thoughts.

There definitely is an over-saturation of connectedness. It starts with cell phones/IM devices and ends with social networking apps. Truly the best remedy is to "unplug", we all know it .. Or do we?

Something just triggered - a discussion we had a few years back on the state of youth ministry in the online age. The consensus was that the internet is here to stay (obviously). Online life is not going to go away or be lessened because a few people like to not be plugged in. It's only going to get worse. We have only begun to see what the internet can be.

It is easy to say that we need to teach kids about "real life", but for many of them, online life IS real life, like it or not. Maybe it is us who need to learn and in turn to teach others how to better navigate the online world.

The problems of trusting people too soon, giving too much too fast, not guarding your information, of being able to be anyone you want to be, online "status" - these are the real problems and are not limited to any one application (FB, Myspace, hi5, imeem, nexopia, etc) .. There will always be a new more advanced app - but these problems are not actually in any way limited to the internet. The real ever present issue is still teaching each other who we actually are, to learn to be confident, have self worth, and ultimately that we can be ourselves and no one else.

Maybe the real issue is that in the over-saturation of media, knowledge and connectedness, we really are simply failing to teach our kids (not just parents but teachers and leaders of all kinds), friends, and brothers and sisters who we really are and how to live. There does seem to be some basic life skills missing from the kids coming into youth group these days, and it's disheartening, but such is the age in which we live and we can either face it head on, or run screaming. I choose the former.

The ever challenging part of the internet is that it is still so new. We're only really 15 years into this whole way of living. There are still constantly new ideas coming onto the internet. The idea of policing and monitoring is just truly beginning to be understood. For years, the internet has merely been a shady backalley, but we are slowly cleaning it up and helping it become a highway. Of course the problem is that once you create a highway, how need to learn how to do 120 without getting killed.

I guess it comes back to the whole "in the world, but not of it" thing .. How do we use the tools available to us, but not let them master us? And more importantly, how do we teach others to do the same?

The online world should never shape us .. but if we have no shape to begin with, it's easy to fall prey to everything you have described.

Some thoughts... Wow, did that make any sense?

grace and peace,
ryan andré

ps. I may steal a bunch of this for my own blog entry. I think many of the parents would love this discussion.