A vote for privacy in a world of oversharing

This post is probably going to annoy some people. I’ll jump the gun here by saying I’m not pointing fingers or on some superiority rampage but I can’t help but look at what’s happening online, now that the Internet and its users have become more intertwined with each other, and see some possibly damaging ways we live out our digital lives.

We all know overshare is a big issue in this era. People can’t seem to figure out where to draw the line or even know that there is a line for the most part. One weekend you’re happily sharing pictures of your drunken night out and making cocky remarks about how superior you are to everyone. Next thing you know, your prospective new employer is going through your #yolo and #fuckthepolice posts and doing a side-by-side comparison between ‘CV you’ and ‘Facebook you’, while you sit there hoping the chair you’re cringing in sucks you through the floor and out the nearest exit. Somehow not even your ‘dress for success’ outfit that you are hoping to (or need to) return the next day saves the day in that moment.

So yeah, we’ve all learned – either through awkward personal experiences or by reading Buzzfeed articles – about how very wrong things can go if you’re not careful what you post online. The angle I’m coming from with this post is a bit more specific, sort of a puzzle piece of how to ensure you don’t end up with egg on your face thanks to your social updates. The big bad wolf I’m trying to tackle here is how you end up looking thanks to what you post or reveal about yourself. The impression you create and the description people who fall in that big, grey realm of associates and people who aren’t quite family or closest to you, would generally give of you.

See, people are funny in more ways than one. What is undeniable, and not really something anyone chooses consciously, is that we all generalize to a degree and have ideas of things and people based on what we see, even if that bit we see is very limited and skewed. Even the most open-minded person who doesn’t generally judge, only gets given so much to go on when they don’t really know you. With that in mind, should you really be fuelling your chances of being misinterpreted? Oh and hey, this is not a post about caring too much what people think. If anything, it’s aimed more towards people who are already trying to make their way through life in a successful manner and who maybe, possibly, want to run for office one day (heck, if Trump can do it, anyone has a chance).

What any good public persona or role model will tell you, is that a great part of garnering respect from others is by maintaining a consistent public image. Erratic behavior makes any perception of you murky, which basically translates to: people are going to compare the things you generally post and say online and then make a generalized assumption based on that. So if you’re angry as hell about love/men/women in one post, then madly in love, then drunk and loving it, then swearing off drinking forever, vegan one moment and wolfing down a steak the next, you’re going to be seen as someone who really doesn’t have a clue what they want in life. If anything, you’ll be marked that erratic one who can’t be depended on. This brings me to the crux of creating a muddled image of how stable you as a person are and how well thought out your life really is: putting dating and relationship updates online.

Take a look at people who are quick to update their Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, Twitter etc. and shout it from the virtual rooftops whenever they start dating someone new. Suddenly all anyone connected to them sees is a flood of pictures with this new love interest and updates from them in their floaty, high state. It’s like they went from being a single entity with their own contribution to the world, to being absolutely nonexistent in the virtual realm, if you excluded updates about this new person. I’m not bashing people in love, not at all. It’s great to feel great. But with that feeling – as with any other – needs to come an understanding that no state of being or feeling ever lasts, directly coinciding with an ability to act in accordance with that knowledge. *climbs off the high-horse-shaped pedestal*

But, as life goes, a lot of relationships fail. It’s just one of those things. Problem is, when you’ve been making so much of a public announcement about it, it’s glaringly obvious when your relationship has withered to the point of nonexistence, even while you try to sweep it under a rug, delete all digital traces of it and keep unusually quiet for a while in the hopes that nobody asks potentially hurtful questions about your love life. It blows my mind and baffles me to no end that people carry on doing this, especially if they’ve gone through the whole process of several failed relationships in this digital era of everything being so out there. We face judgement for so many things, and by putting your most private connections and most meaningful moments (however short-lived they might end up being) out there, you face the very real risk of being judged or having unwanted and sometimes very direct interference from outsiders who should (in a less intrusive world) have no role to play in your personal life…it’s also something which has caused a lot of issues and ultimate failures in relationships lately. Of course, also not forgetting how all this ultimately ends up being a big influencing factor in your appearance as someone who is able (or unable) to hold down a serious, long-term relationship.

If you take nothing more from all of this, take this next piece of my opinion and just think about it a bit. I don’t think you should ever post updates that are too close to your personal life. Firstly, why would you need to make such an effort to expose your relationship (and actually many other things) to the world? Anyone secure in who they are and who they are with wouldn’t need to show it off or seek validation or even any other response by telling everyone. With the way life is, I really, honestly believe the only time you should put up a relationship status and photos online, is when you’re already married. In fact, make your wedding photos the first ones you put up and let that serve as a solid confirmation that what people see, is likely to be something, or rather someone, that they can expect to see and associate with you for a very long time.

I’d even go so far as to say don’t even announce your engagement online. The amount of times Facebook friends of mine announced an engagement, or even got to the point of being newlywed, then suddenly going very quiet and months later they start dropping hints about how lonely life is and mention things about life as a singleton…sigh. Life is meant to be lived, not captured and recorded to the point where you miss the here and now (and this is coming from an avid archivist). Privacy is a precious thing…it involves trust with a select few people and the rare ability to choose to be and do whatever you want, without need to conform to standards and expectations. If ever a relationship had to be associated with something, surely privacy would be it.

This could just be me. I mean I’m a solid fan of structure and having a clear understanding of things. So when people I know go through these wild phases of being in and out of love repeatedly, it makes me worry that nobody in this world actually has it together. And I really, truly, want to believe that we all are at least sort of in charge of things and  are following some Master Plan. More than that, the underlying thing that bugs me, is that it all starts to create a very sad outlook on the reality of dating life and relationships. Maybe this is how it’s always been, maybe I just want to retain a hint of denial when it comes to this part of life. That whole notion of ‘for as long as we both shall live’ is already battered and bruised, just look at how many people casually cheat on their partners. I really don’t need to know that, on top of life being damn hard and complicated, there is a very real, huge mountain of struggle ahead of each of us to find the basic fulfilment of a partner. After all, if all the lore of life and love is to be believed, a partner is the one thing that’s supposed to help you get through all the other bad things life throws at you. If it’s a mission finding that, you’re going to have to become one seriously tough person who, although independent as heck, will probably have far too many lonely days.

Oh also, bit of a thought I had the other day… Even the most together people who are otherwise calculated, laser focused and apparently mentally stable, can completely lose their head when it comes to love. For those people, the ones who would really like to know when they’re being nuts at any stage in time, I have a suggested litmus test: Take the person you are dating or want to be in a relationship with, and imagine you get to meet the one person you admire and look up to more than anyone in the world. Now imagine meeting them and ask yourself if you’d be happy, excited and proud to introduce the person you’re with to them. If you’re flinching right now, I have bad news for you. None of us are perfect, granted, but your partner is a very powerful extension of who and what you are and stand for. Even the smartest, most successful person in the world can very rapidly lose respect or credibility if the person they choose to be with isn’t entirely on par with them and their standards. I’ll just leave you with that…

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The Issue Of Boundaries

You’ll always find people who are just flat out inappropriate with their timing or their approach to you. Sadly, I guess not everyone was raised to be sensitive to others’ needs and the possibility that they are encroaching or overstepping their bounds at times. Maybe they are completely unaware that they’re actually bothering you or hurting you in some way with their actions. Then again, maybe they are just self-absorbed and thinking about their own wants and needs in that moment.

My dad taught me many things when I was a kid. One of them was to always put yourself in someone else’s shoes and remember that we are all going through our own struggles. At some point in time I took it a step further, because I really wanted to understand as well as I could, what a life outside of mine could be like. I’d lie in bed whenever it was quiet and try to actively visualize the life of someone else, someone completely random that I didn’t even know or have met in person. Like an old woman in a retirement home who spent her whole life looking after others and now finds herself quite alone in her last days. Or the homeless man everyone ignores as they walk past him. I’d try to imagine what their lives could have been like, what led them to this point. Finally I started writing from their perspective, small, one-page pieces with a glimpse into the life of another person and how they thought and felt. Overall it made me a lot more aware of others’ feelings and left me convinced that none of us are entitled to judge another. Obviously that just made me a whole lot more aware and uncomfortable with people generally being so judgemental and inconsiderate of how they make others feel at times.

As much as there are many random moments and ways that people can disrespect your boundaries, it seems to be most commonly based on what you do for a living. Your choice of career somehow seems to give everyone at random a sort of free pass to bother you about it for the rest of your days, without so much as asking permission first. Ask any guy who knows a bit about IT and computers. They’re bound to be harassed by family and friends the moment something breaks or a new printer is bought. He’s just the go-to guy, whether he wants to be or not. Usually there’s a bit of bribery involved, often involving a free dinner, “…and while you’re here, won’t you take a look at my PVR? I can’t get the damn thing to record.” If you have a doctor in the family or are one yourself, you’ll know that you’re never really on holiday – especially on family holidays. Big get-togethers like Christmas or a family birthday means you’re basically going to be spending a good deal of your time giving free advice and check-ups to everyone, ranging from your aunt with her developing arthritis to your uncle’s brother in law who thinks he has a suspicious mole on his back. I’ve actually heard people say, “Oh she won’t mind, she does this every day! It’ll just take a minute.” I guess the fact that you do something every day somehow means you must want to do it even more when you clock out and finally have a chance to relax…

Cases get even more extreme as you move out of the general member of public circles and become a bit more well-known. It seems the more you move into the public eye, the less entitlement you have to basic human rights and even suggesting that you need a time out will cause an uproar of shock and even offense. As if you somehow owe your life and achievements to them and you’re throwing it in their faces by not always being on hand to sign autographs or smile for a picture. Porn stars, I’m very sure, have an issue with most fans thinking they are basically guaranteed sex with them because heck, it’s what they do for a living, on camera, so what’s the problem? Crude as it may seem, the reality is most guys would probably say they can at least cop a feel because they keep these actors in business. The less clothes were involved in getting you famous, the more people think it’s okay to get grabby. Somehow people seem to be completely blind and unaware that beyond what that person does or did, they still have unique personalities with interests and needs completely separate from what they’re known for, and that they’d like to just be treated with the same respect and decency we bestow upon other people we hardly know. More than that, we all get fed up with people wanting things from us sometimes and we should all have the right to turn off our phones and just take the day off if we need it, without having to worry about someone taking offense. Nobody ever willingly signed away their right to privacy, unless they were only in it for the fame.

It’s almost as if any sense of regard or consideration just goes straight out the window when normal people deal with ‘celebrities’ (I really don’t like that term, I’ve always thought they’re just people in more prominent public view than others). You’d swear they’re dealing with storefront mannequins at times. Just over ten years ago a friend dragged me to a nightclub and as it happened, a pretty well-known local radio and TV presenter was DJ’ing there that night. At some point in time he walked up and was standing beside me at the bar when out of the crowd a woman appeared. Pale, long mousy hair in a ponytail and thick-rimmed glasses, she seemed very out of place, compared to the makeup-drenched stiletto squad there. She walked straight up to him and asked, in a pretty thick Afrikaans accent, if he was who she thought he was. He barely said yes as she looked him up and down, then dropped this on him: “Jis. You really aren’t good looking in person. No wonder you’re on the radio.” And with that, she turned around and walked off. I think my jaw was dragging on the alcohol-stained floor in that moment, with my heart fast in tow. I couldn’t even look up to check his reaction, I was reeling with shock. He took a sip of his drink, put the glass on the bar counter and walked off into the crowd without a word. Later that night I saw him standing in a corner by himself, staring at his phone. I felt so sickened and sad. How the hell anyone could be so downright cruel and crass, I had no idea. The most disarming thing was seeing someone who usually has a mouth faster on the draw than a cowboy in a gunfight, being so very quiet. Some people would say in a sense he should have seen it coming and needs to deal with it, because this is the life he chose and how he chose to be seen. I don’t see anyone deserving that type of comment or treatment though, especially not if you weren’t personally hurt or offended by them in a bad way, and even then I’d usually keep my mouth shut. I suppose Joan Rivers must have got a lot of flak and inconsiderate comments in her lifetime too – after all, she only ever came across as crass and tactless even. Yes, you do reap what you sow. But for some, all they did was chase after something they really loved or wanted, propelled by their passion, never once wanting or thinking about receiving attention or fame as a result.

Sure, we inadvertently all end up being associated – often wrongfully or partially – by what we do or what we’re known for. We even do it to ourselves, albeit at will. If you’re a writer, down to your every last fibre, you’d proudly proclaim yourself as such. Women who can conceive of nothing better than being a mom, happily label themselves mothers above all else. The problem comes in when we get boxed and treated in a way we didn’t actually ask for. It’s not something that we can do much about, it’s just the way people think and behave. What you see is how you identify something or someone. So if an image of a person is only ever portrayed to you, over and over, in one way, it becomes hard to see or imagine them as more or anything different. Sadly, often the punishment we have to deal with for succeeding at what we strive for in life, is loss of respect and recognition for all we are, outside of the one thing people see or know you for.

It’s been said so many times that it pretty much just blows right past people’s conscious consideration these days, but you really do need to try and think beyond yourself when you deal with people. I’d challenge anyone to just take a day, or even half a day, to look at the people you come across in those hours and remember that there’s a whole lot more going on with them than just the few minutes of interaction they have with you.