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Our Lives Before A Digital Audience

I am willing to concede that I am old. Not like geriatric old, but old enough to have lived during a time when the Internet didn't exist. During elementary, it was a big deal for me to be able to use a computer; I still remember having to "ground" myself every time I sat down at the Apple IIe. (FYI youngsters, "grounding" was when we would run our fingers along the bottom edge beneath the keyboard to touch the metal screws located on the underside. The purpose was to prevent us from getting a "shock" and probably to prevent the computer from short-circuiting from static electricity). 
Bet you've never played Carmen Sandiego on one of these!
Back then, we saved our computer work on 5 1/4" floppy disks, we used landline phones with rotary dials and easily-knotted twisty cords, and our cameras required real film cartridges that risked exposure and complete ruin every time we wound up the d@mn roll.

My point is this: during the dark ages that were the last decades of the 20th century, digital technology was not a pervasive part of everyday life. It was something that happened in computer class, or while playing of 16-bit video games in the evening, or while pulling out the camera for special occasions; it wasn't 24x7, before a global audience.

By contrast, for those born after 1985 (and especially after 1995), technology has become so much a part of every aspect of their lives that I am sure it would be inconceivable to imagine an existence without Facebook, selfies, cell phones and WiFi.

As I interact with technology now, and as I observe others around me doing so, it seems that a great divide is forming between my old lady generation (and those before me), and the folks who were born into an Internet-dominated world. One of the greatest differences rests in how life is experienced and information is conveyed; while we geezers tend to have at least a modicum of skepticism regarding where we draw our line between private and public, it seems that some of this younger generation lives out their existence on social media. That is, if it's not posted on IG/ FB/Twitter/Tumblr/Snapchat/Pinterest/Google+/younameit or a blog, then it didn't happen. Whether it's trivialities like what was for dinner and what one is wearing, to bigger things like marriage engagements or the loss of a loved one, these are all chronicled in some digital form that is at very least accessible to one's social circles, and possibly to an even larger, anonymous global audience.

Is this a problem? I don't really know. In some ways, I'm as guilty as anyone. I mean, I blog, for crying out loud! And I am active on several forms of social media to varying degrees (IG and FB being my worst vices). True, I didn't announce Little L's birth or my engagement on FB as it happened. I was also reluctant to even document my pregnancy until I was ready to pop. For me, while some parts of my life are fairly open to public consumption (such as my thoughts on certain issues, or some of my parenting experiences), there are also parts of my life that remain sacred and off-limits to the world wide web, like my marriage relationship and my ongoing journey through grief and the loss of my dad, or my in-person relationships with others. In my case, I have a line that's fairly defined. Some do, and some don't.

It's not like I'm here to condemn this tech-obsessed generation, since I partake fully. But I do pose a few thoughtful questions both to myself and to others out there who are documenting their every purchase and every moment of anger, or sorrow, or joy on the Internet: whose approval or affirmation are you seeking? Where do you draw the line between private, and open to public consumption? What is the intention behind your posts? How comfortable do you feel to be held accountable to what you've published online? These are hard questions, but in some ways, fair ones too. Because, because... if we invite strangers into our journeys and parts of our lives, then we relinquish at least some right to complain when their presence is no longer welcome, or becomes oppressive. The same consumers of our output who may be our greatest cheerleaders may also one day become our greatest critics, and nobody can really predict the fickle fandom of anonymous online readers and digital "friends."

I have seen this (and read this) borne out in certain bloggers who have invited a larger following of strangers/readers to become emotionally invested in their lives. One writer in particular has garnered quite a fan base due to her writings on grief and the sudden and tragic loss of her child, and the hashtag that she created in his memory. Unfortunately, it seems that for every person who is still a loyal and sympathetic reader a year later, there are at least as many online followers who now feel quite entitled to question this blogger's motives, emotional stability, expenditure of personal funds, and marital relationship. And while it's arguably morally reprehensible that one should be so cruel to someone who just lost a child not more than a year ago, it's also true that this particular writer offered up her very private grief for public consumption, and also "profited" from her loss via social "fund me" set-ups and gifts sent from strangers and other (allegedly) sponsored deals. The grief junkies who were so quick to lend their digital support because they felt moved and touched and saddened, now feel equally invested in continuing her grief for their own satisfaction, as though her moving on might somehow be a betrayal of their readership or her child's memory.

When we seek an audience and the support or approval of strangers via "likes" or trending hashtags or the number of followers on our social media, I think we court danger. We open ourselves up to scrutiny, to gossip and speculation, and to all sorts of fair and unfair assumptions. The more benefit we stand to gain through increasing publicity, the more intense the blowback when our readership decides that we aren't so great anymore. And inevitably, whether it's our FB followers or our tweetdom, we won't be able to please everyone all of the time. The more we open up our lives to be consumed in this fashion, then, the more likely it is that we will incite the irk of someone with every status update or posted picture.

These are hard questions I have to ask myself, too, given my proclivity to post every cute moment my kid has, or blog every time I have an opinion to soapbox. Am I trying to court a larger audience? What do I aim to accomplish by posting what I do? Am I seeking approval or affirmation from online strangers? In the event I received sponsorship or gifts from strangers as a result of this blog, would this automatically entitle them to something? To a say in my life or how I conduct it? Thankfully, there are only a few of you reading (I think). I'm not seeing 10,000 hits every time I hit the publish button, so I don't feel like I have to deal with nearly the same kind of reader rage that other bloggers have experienced. But it still makes me want to shrink back, even a little more, from putting my personal life online for the world to read about. I don't want Little L to grow up before a digital audience with such fairweather fancies.

And so, I feel like this blog is pulling me in a whole new direction. Stay tuned. ;)



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