I was reading The Digital Ties That Bind: Love, Loss and Oversharing in the Internet Age and I found that I don’t see things exactly the same way, especially relating to the changes made online after something happens in or ends a relationship. Callie Schweitzer says in the article “There’s just no way to completely scrub your digital self from a relationship in 2014, no quick way to sever digital ties once they’ve been formed and no easy way to tell your social media networks that you’re no longer together.”
It’s possible that the way I view this type of situation is different because of my age (I’ll be 35 this year). I’m not a millennial as is the author of this piece. I didn’t grow up with the internet or social networking. Computers became household items as I was finishing high school and then social networking truly took off when I was already in my early twenties. My first social networking site was with opendiary and as the name implies, I tried to ensure that it was an open diary of my life. Anything I posted, and I posted the worst and the best of what happened, was real. As I mentioned in my first entry I did end up censoring myself, and there were consequences to being open and honest and having this diary attached to the people in my everyday world.
Even on sites like MySpace, Facebook, and Google+ I am honest about my relationships. I don’t go into the same detail I intend to do here, but I don’t hide whom I’m with or have been with. If my relationship changes or ends I leave the photos and details of that on the page. I may remove some images or rearrange things, but I don’t go back and delete entries from the past. I simply don’t see the point. My online reality, even split between sites, is still my reality. I have chosen to use the social networking sites that are already linked to family, friends, and acquaintances for sharing information and keeping in contact. I won’t lie there, but I won’t be completely open. That’s what this blog is for. As I said in that first entry the goal here is to have a private, public, anonymous outlet. A place to say things I can’t elsewhere for my sake and that of those in my life.
I understand the author’s desire to erase or modify that online history to fit what you’re feeling or your current situation, but the reality is that isn’t possible. There’s no point in deleting the pictures and entries. It changes nothing about the truth. If we’re using these online tools with the primary purpose being to get attention and approval, then only the items that make it through your internal filter of what will be “likeable” will make it onto the page. This online persona can become so far removed from the reality of you that it becomes a fiction. It seems to me that if you publicize only the happy details, the admirable qualities, or the good news that you are doing damage to yourself. This can only serve to convince you that those are the only things that matter, when that is very far from the truth. A one dimensional and very false person that makes. All your experiences matter. The attention and approval of your audience is very different from invested interest and the heartfelt understanding of friends and family. That difference is made more evident by the way we maintain ourselves online and the way that we are responded to. For many people it seems forty likes is more important than two notes from people that obviously care or a phone call from someone that wishes to respond and be involved outside the computer screen. I don’t believe it must be that way, although you can obviously tell by my decision to maintain multiple sites that I do believe that there is a difference between sharing everyday life and sharing the range of thoughts that go through your head.
“And while I often preach the importance of online authenticity, I’m left questioning what the digital age can and cannot capture, and what we are even trying to capture in the first place. So much of life is too complicated and messy and complex to be portrayed publicly, and relationships certainly fall into that category. I wonder if it is the braver and bolder decision to hold on to our privacy.”
I think the important thing to decide is why you’re maintaining an online presence. Are you doing this for yourself? Are you gaining something from it? Are you on Facebook (or wherever) solely to keep in contact with and catch the major details of your friends lives? If so, what should you share? Do you want or need an outlet where you can be honest, talk about the highs and lows without leaving out details? I think this is something each person needs to really think through. With car insurance companies going online to review pictures on social accounts, employers reviewing and some even demanding your Facebook password, and insurance companies using social networking sites and data profiling to pre-screen, collect data on, and monitor people you really must decide when and where it’s appropriate to share certain information.
I’ve decided to keep the majority of my information attached to one email address and the associated accounts. For sites such as this, I’ll be maintaining a completely separate email address and information. There are some things that are simply not the business of companies and people in my life. I want to share certain thoughts and experiences, receive and give feedback, almost like you would with a psychologist, but in a forum that is free and comfortable. This is that forum. I’ve made that decision for myself. My past experiences, though muddled by the lack of anonymity, tell me that there is much to be gained in this type of environment. Simply getting the information out of your head and heart and into written words is invaluable. It’s no coincidence that this method of expression is frequently and highly recommended to people in all sorts of situations.