A blog about writing . . . and a lot of other things

Monday, July 2, 2012

Living life online

Do you ever think about what a tremendous shift there has been in the way we live in the last hundred years?  In 1912 most houses did not have electricity or indoor plumbing.  Think of how much of a person's time must have been spent doing the basic things that are so much easier for us today.

What did they do with their spare time, though?  There was no television and very little radio.  When the power goes out now we all wander around bouncing off the walls, not sure what to do with ourselves.  We can't work, we can't play, we can't eat.  We barely function at all.

I'm interested in the new television series Revolution that is coming out in the fall.  It may be awful, but I like the idea of exploring a modern world without electricity.  We are so dependent on it that I wonder in the long term how we would function.

When I was a kid we had video games and lots and lots of television.  Once I was in high school email existed, but it was not commonly used.  No one had really heard of the Internet.  The shift to an online focus happened while I was in college.  The students would spend hours in the computer labs emailing and chatting with each other and looking up jokes on the World Wide Web.  By the time I graduated from college every company had a web address and regular people were starting to carry mobile phones.

Over the next decade the Internet became not just a place to shop or hunt for jokes, but a place to live.  Social networking grew, and it was ten years after I left college when I took the plunge and joined Facebook.  Now I have to check it regularly or I don't know what is going on in my friends' lives.  We've lost all other forms of contact, apparently.

Can you believe things have changed so much in so little time?  Now we're living a life represented by short blurbs and pictures. Our lives are framed by the reference point of online narcissism.  If there's not a picture on Facebook, did it happen?  Why waste time with something that won't look good online?

Facebook has been an eye-opener to the people around us.  Whether we like it or not, we've learned who fritters away hours every day playing games.  We've learned who is ALWAYS ON FACEBOOK.  (Do they work?  Do they go outside?  Do they use the restroom?)  We've learned who is highly political and what their views are.  We've learned who has absolutely no filters between themselves and the Internet.  One of my "friends" online shared their bowel movement experience recently.  Really?

There are some unwritten rules of etiquette for online life.  I don't know what they are, though.  As I said, they are unwritten, and I'm certainly not on the cutting edge of anything.  I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that bowel movements are probably not okay to share.  Another thing that shouldn't get posted online?  Your fight with your husband, child, parent, friend.  One of the darkest sides of the Internet is the way that it immortalizes our flashes of anger, our ill-thought prejudices, our foolish whims.  If you don't stop and think before posting, you inevitably post something you regret.  I know I have.

But does the image we put online represent who we are?  If we are careful what we post on Facebook, what we put on our blogs, what are we really putting out there?  It's a sanitized version of reality that has no authenticity.  If you know me only based on Facebook and my blog, you would think I write, cook, garden, and go for walks with my family.  These are all true, but I also grumble to my husband, veg on the couch, yell at my kids, surreptitiously scratch, and say things I regret.  I even pay bills and, believe it or not, sometimes go to work.

I think one of the dangers of our modern online existence is that it makes all of us mini-celebrities (at least in our minds).  We're fluffy characters on a sitcom, taking pictures of our shoes and posting cute things our kids say.  We try to have our lives look as cute as Pinterest, while the things that really matter fall by the wayside because they don't look good in a picture or sound good in a status update.

I think there's a happy medium between exposing too much online and portraying a perfect image that doesn't have anything to do with the absurdity of reality.  I hope I can find that place.  I hope I can step away from my laptop and live life authentically, without just using that time to come up with things to post on Facebook.

By the way, the inherent contradiction of saying that I should be spending more time offline through the format of my blog is not lost on me.

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