Disclaimer: This post does not refer to people who are distraught after suffering abuse and use the internet as a last source of comfort. It refers to the far more numerous who have incrementally been trained by our culture to bring every detail of their lives into the public arena, exposing small grievances as important and almost annihilating the notion of privacy, to their own detriment. It is, first of all, self-criticism, for having repeatedly fallen into that pattern, although the details themselves are fictitious.
Sometimes I wrote in codes. Other times in foreign languages, unhindered by poor grammar or spelling. Most days my diary traveled with me, away from the prying eyes of parents or siblings; I was secretly proud of developing my individuality in ways no one could scrutinise, judge or mock. The thought of a stranger entering that sacred space was unconscionable.
Most days I would write at my school desk, in the grass, against walls and on benches, with my diary on my knees. I would breath in the seasonal breeze, watch the world go by with the corner of my eye and ask myself: what should I do about this? What do I think today? How do I feel today? What are my values? Have I changed since this summer? Have I changed since last year? Think before you speak and think before you act were ingrained, which made my world safer and my behaviour more dignified.
Today, I am Nickname Avatar.
I no longer know what I think and how I feel. I no longer know how to handle the smallest conflicts or decisions and how to relate to those in my immediate environment.
I let others vote on that.
So please, vote. Did my husband wrong me by making that unflattering comment? Should I forgive him? Should I tell him what I told all of you last night, while he was sleeping? Hurry up now; he’s taking me out to lunch; we’re having a very important conversation, the result of which I will of course make public while he’s in the restroom.
Sometimes I think they should legalise polygamy. We’ve lived in a polygamous arrangement for years. There are three pillows on the marital bed: one for him, one for me and another for Public Consensus, which goes to bed with us every night, and as you might imagine, it sleeps in the middle. It keeps asking for official recognition; and why wouldn’t it? It’s been part of my life all this time; I invited it.
My parents and grandparents, my aunts and uncles didn’t have perfect marriages. Perhaps because the mere concept is unrealistic, given that it’s human nature to clash in terms of opinions, plans and desires; no two human beings are ever the same. It’s human nature to argue, just as it’s human nature to get over it and move on. If this paragraph sounds naive, how is it that people today demand perfection, by making a mountain out of every cold look, every day of silence, every argument and every other slip-up past generations wouldn’t have bothered their minds with?
No, they didn’t have perfect lives, but at least they had dignity. Even while morose after prolonged arguments, if someone outside the family engaged in criticism or rumours, they would be firm. How dare you say that about my wife! I don’t believe a word of it! Who do you think you are…? What I witnessed would go both ways, as opposed to an abused person not speaking out for fear of repercussions. Personally, I think it’s a beautiful thing. They were aware life wouldn’t be a rose garden and that they’d have numerous clashes in the years to come, but when it came right down to it, they stood up for each other.
Dignity does not reside in proclaiming one’s emotional independence on the internet, shaming others by exposing shared intimacy and proclaiming one’s position of virtuous victim-hood. Not every mistake others make warrants such a response. If you’re active on a forum where people also discuss private matters, you often see members regretting having gone public with a transitory conflict. But it doesn’t keep them from doing it again, or anyone else for that matter.
We are so used to living life in the limelight, albeit an illusory one, down to exposing what we cook for supper on Facebook (though Facebook itself may cause supper to burn to a crisp in the oven, all forgotten). And every aspect of our lives, even said supper if not burnt to a crisp, is subjected to validation, criticism and advice.
Think about it: do we really need all the feedback? Why on God’s green Earth do people expose themselves down to the bone marrow and then complain about social anxiety and the constant fear of others judging them? It’s a paradox.
The more you expose, the more reasons they have to pass judgement. Why think that on-line communities are somehow different from society in general? Because they proclaim to be so? You wouldn’t undress on a busy street corner, would you? Then why talk to a bunch of anonymous people about your favourite sexual positions? You wouldn’t bring a bottle of wine to work and expand on your worst childhood memories. Why do it on-line then?
A moment’s catharsis really isn’t worth the prospective gossip, mockery, unwanted feedback and criticism. People see the world through their own eyes; they are very likely to confuse your situation with theirs and push you towards a wrong decision.
Reserving a place for Public Consensus at the dinner table or in one’s bed will only cause distance between a person and those who supposedly trust them. Trust involves intimacy, discretion (or used to, to be more precise, as now these concepts are less real to people by the day).
Growing and learning together, supporting and defending each other against the adversities of the world leads to strong characters, to enduring relationships, as previous generations have proved. One has a different take on life when knowing at the end of the day there are people to always rely on, no matter what.
And what do we see today?
We see very lonely people, trying to figure out who they can trust, analysing others’ past transgressions down to small details. We see those who spend holidays with their cats, looking up disorders they can label their family members with for having ignored them or hurt them fifteen years before. And yes, in some situations that is logical, yet we can no longer deny this has become a trend, engulfing some who would otherwise live normal lives.
Paradoxically, in this age of befriending others so fast you can tell them anything about yourself within minutes, so many are utterly alone and aware of it.
Deep down, they know the on-line networks they have joined are volatile and that they won’t grow old still talking to their friends of conjuncture. On occasion, one finds a genuine friend, but that is a rare gem. It’s basically like going to a pub every night to meet strangers and share your stories with them, as all the lights at home are out.
In isolation, we fill our time with so-called entertainment, flicking through crime stories, detective series on gruesome murders, documentaries on how to spot liars, cheaters & Co, shocking psychopaths, depressing news or dramas full of pain and dysfunctional families. The end result of this flood, I suspect, is a raised level of paranoia.
How will western societies hold together if people become evermore isolated in real life? Our elders keep saying that if the family is dismembered, society as a whole will follow. I believe we are living through those times now – within the family unit, people have become intolerant and intolerable at the same time.
Cooperation is a strange notion nowadays; meeting people halfway; assuming our biological gender roles and taking on adult responsibilities in adulthood – all these common sense aspects have been overrun by the sense of entitlement our culture feeds day in and day out. You deserve more! You’re worth more! You’re a winner; don’t let losers drag you down! You’re the best; don’t settle for less! Again, I’m not talking about people in abusive situations here; they obviously deserve better. One can climb onto the rooftop and shout they are empowered by cutting ties left and right, for the whole world to hear; deep down there will still be a stifled cry of emptiness or regret.
The fact remains that every time we metaphorically undress for all to see, the world chews us into small bits and spits us out again; our image of ourselves is altered. Many times the responses we get induce more anxiety than we already had.
We cringe when watching film depictions of ancient trials for private ”crimes” (such as adultery ), where people’s intimacy is humiliatingly discussed before a gawking, finger-pointing crowd – and yet subject ourselves and our loved ones to the modern equivalent on the internet, under the false blanket of anonymity. And very often, it turns into another hindrance in the way of reconciliation; a guilt-inducing, needless one.