Thursday, September 19, 2013

Transparency vs. Impression Management

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I'm going to hit you with a really weak analogy because it doubles as a funny anecdote:  If you can, try to remember a time of your life in school, probably circa long-division for most of us, when the math teacher would use an overhead projector and thin dry-erase markers to solve the problem du jour step-by-step for the class.  This was, of course, before iPads and PowerPoint and Smart Boards and online textbooks.

What I remember about this smudgy getup was how not only were the written numbers and symbols projected up onto the roll-down screen, but anything else that came close to the hot hot light, like the silhouettte of a teacher's wristwatch, would be visible too.  I remember one particular math teacher who had distractingly long wrist and arm hair, magnified every day during pre-algebra.  Such hairy arms. [The irony was that this teacher shaved his legs but not his arms. The leg-shaving was the topic of many sophomoric make-fun-of-the-teacher-so-we-feel-cool chuckles. Little did we know he was a very successful triathlete, thus the leg-shaving.  He was a bigger badass than most of us would ever become... but what did we know...  I digress.]

After Dan asked me the other day to recap for him why I blog (a topic I've not chosen to write about, specifically because it makes me feel like I'll sound self-important). And I started thinking about transparency.

A little about me:
Back when Myspace was huge (before Facebook), I also happened to be in counseling, going through a pretty rough patch in my personal life [thus the counseling].  Many people in my life might not have known about this because I was a Master Impression Manager.  Myspace and Instant Messenger made it super easy, as the world only got the impression of me that I wanted them to, based on what I displayed on my little corner of the world wide web.

Telling myself the truth, unmasking and being vulnerable to other people were frequent themes throughout my counseling journey.  Even today the perfectionist in me is tempted toward impression management, especially made so easy with social media and blogging -- people only see what you post -- it's like taking candy from a baby.   Even though I like to think I've come a long way in my perfectionism, I might dwell and dwell over what I will write or share, trying to make sure I show the perfect balance of privacy and vulnerability -- which is a perfectionistic tactic all on its own.  It can be exhausting.

Transparency exposes all, without guile or concealment.

To strive for complete transparency in blogging (or 'gramming or 'booking) might prove to be a disservice to one's personal relationships.  I read this one blog sometimes (a popular one, relatively speaking), that is addictive like a modern soap opera.  The posts unfold like pages turning in a really good novel, and the writer shares it all.  She is so open and so honest, you feel like she's your best friend and you're her personal cheerleader (and so does everybody else, as evidenced by the comments).  I love her writing style.  But then I find myself thinking... ummm... does your baby daddy know that you're writing all this? 'Cause I'm pretty sure having this much information about my family on the Internet would ruin my marriage.

On the converse, to run from any level of transparency (read: posting only the good stuff) might prove to be a disservice to one's readers, and a sell-out on authenticity.  It's easy to read someone's blog with beautiful [edited] photos, and chronicles of big accomplishments and completed projects, and think: I suck at life.  I know this to be true because I do it all the time.  There are a handful of blogs that I look to for inspiration and ideas, and a handful that I look to -- repeatedly -- that just make me feel bad about myself.  Why do we do that to ourselves?  I hope my blog never ever ever makes anyone feel bad about themselves, like ever.  

Balancing Act
I don't like to use my blog to ventilate my marital quarrels, or the deepest of my personal issues, or family-of-origin baggage.  But I've got them.  All kinds.

It's important to acknowledge how imperfect we are.  I do think it's possible to maintain an authentic online identity without exposing or exploiting every detail of your life (or the people).  I think it's perfectly healthy to have online cheerleaders from afar that you've never met in person AND friends from real life that never read your blog.

If our daily relationship with the world has been reduced to 160 carefully-chosen characters of tweet -- or what we blogged about, or which article we chose to 'share' or which meme we 'grammed -- we must be careful not to blame our shallow relationships on the inanimate venues for perpetuating this information, and instead take a look in the mirror.

Keeping Myself in Check
These are the gutcheck ground rules that I have for myself in pursuing authenticity on the blog (or social media venues).
  1. Do not complain about a friend or family member, especially my spouse, unless it's to confess my own err in complaining about them and turn it around to paint them in the best light. 
  2. Do not post things that I really actually only want one person in particular to see.  If I'm secretly thinking "oooh I hope so-and-so [usually someone from my past] reads this post," I might need to rethink the topic entirely. 
  3. Share only stories that are mine to tell.  Online gossip, even when vague or anonymous ("I've got a friend who..."), doesn't sit right. 
  4. Post at least one photo per week that is not edited, and not filtered in any way. Real life. Without the #reallife hash tag. 
The Benefits
I got such an outpouring of supportive comments and private messages, emails, phone calls after opening up last week about the not-so-pregnant experience I've had of late.  (P.S. Four additional negative pregnancy tests and five days later, I finally knew with certainty that I am not with child. longest. menstrual. cycle. ever.)  Some of this support came from complete strangers.  How many times do us self-proclaimed "writers" get to have our lives enriched by others all over the country, the world, because we chose to take a risk and share something vulnerable?

I think the internet is a pretty great thing.  Let's keep it real.

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