An interesting thing has happened over the 20 years that I’ve been living online and interacting with strangers behind keyboards (most of whom were anonymous until about 8 years ago). I’d like to call it judgment, but that doesn’t seem strong enough; people regularly get eviscerated for saying something online that doesn’t fall in line with what other people believe to be right or good.
Not long ago, I tweeted this while someone who follows me was tweeting about cancer. Her response to my tweet was along the lines of: Aren’t you lucky that that’s all you have to worry about. Your coffee spilled. What a tragedy. At the time, I made light of it because 1) that’s what I do 2) she was obviously going through something.
But, here’s the thing: just because I’m lamenting over spilled coffee, or sharing a funny anecdote about my kids, doesn’t mean my life is all rainbows and butterflies. Is cancer a reality in my life right now? Yes. Am I dealing with the health issues of loved ones? Yes. My kids, included. I struggle and I stress and I feel sad and lonely and angry and frustrated – sometimes all in the same moment. Sometimes, for many moments. Too many moments.
Who I am in public is all me, but it’s not all of me. It reflects me, but it doesn’t encompass who I am.
There is a lot that I don’t share online, for a variety of reasons. Years ago, I decided that I want my online presence to be positive – I want it be supportive and funny and, if possible, thought-provoking. I want it to be something I do to escape the trials of my life. It reflects the best of my life and I’m alright with that. You might call that inauthentic. I call it self-preservation.
I enjoy a good online discussion, which is why I post articles, videos and images that might generate those discussions on Facebook, where people know me. There was a time when I’d invite myself into such debates in public forums, like Twitter, and engage trolls, but I discovered that all it did was bring me down and affect my mood. I don’t believe it’s ever been terribly effective, anyway; to my knowledge, I have never changed the mind of an argumentative stranger behind a keyboard. I save that for people in my physical space – people I see face-to-face, strangers and loved ones alike.
Don’t assume that just because people aren’t talking about something online that they aren’t living it, thinking about it, or talking about it offline. People are living their lives and only sharing aspects of it – they participate in debates to the extent to which they are comfortable, or not at all. And that is alright. The people who aren’t talking about certain things may be the ones who are actually affected the most.
What aspects of your life do you share online?
Are you more likely to vent online or create the illusion of rainbows and butterflies?