I had a discussion with a friend recently – unfortunately not face-to-face, or even voice-to-voice, but through email, a perfectly respectable form of communication in and of itself, but not necessarily an emotional one, thus occasionally leading to misconstructions.
The topic of the discussion was TMI, or Too Much Information. He believes, as Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame does, that there is no such thing as privacy any more, and that we should all get used to having everything about our lives out there! I believe that if you want to have it all out there, then go for it: put it on line, post your photos, write your blogs, share your wildest dreams and deepest fears with complete and total strangers. Whatever techno- or ether-fantasy you have, you should be able to live it out, and let the peeping toms and curious cates of the world have their fun, too.
What I don’t think is right is when you do not want certain information out there, or if something is posted on line somehow that was absolutely meant to be private, and it cannot be retrieved or pulled back in. Suddenly, the pictures you meant for just one person can now be seen by millions. Or thoughts you shared with one friend about work are now being relayed around the world in a sadly perfect game of six degrees of separation. Yes, I know you shouldn’t post anything that you can’t afford to have shared, but still, naivety and trust and just plain silliness being what they are… people make mistakes, and I think it’s sort of sad that unlike the mistakes of our parents, these mistakes will be seen and remembered forever.
Worse than this, however, is information that you had no idea could pop up on the internet and yet, somehow, there it is. In my own case, I can find myself being listed as living in some communities in which I haven’t lived in 20-plus years, and with very interesting tidbits of my life attached. Nothing salacious, sadly, but still… Should there be a border, if you will, between what you deliberately put out there, what accidentally gets put on line (for whatever stupid reason) and what you never intended to be posted? I think there should be, but I don’t know how that could possibly be achieved and, it’s quite likely, that the horse has left the barn and we’re past this discussion and need to have a different one about stronger privacy laws before anything goes on line.
The other part of my debate with my friend, which we didn’t get into as much (because he’s a crummy typist and couldn’t keep up with me – or at least, that’s his excuse), was about the things we write or otherwise create that we actually do want on line for viewing, for comments, for sharing. For example, this blog. I write this for myself, but I post it because I have friends and family around the world who read it and are keeping up with me, sort of, by reading, sharing, commenting, and occasionally giving me grief – in a loving, happy, friendly way, of course!
Of course, I did have a troll or two when the blog first went up; for all I know, they may still be reading it but my level of caring is less than zero. Trolls are a problem for any blogger, and I suppose I should be grateful mine weren’t there just to be miserable. I am a huge fan of Her Bad Mother – a truly fun, insightful, incredibly well-written blog about mothering written by Catherine Connors, a woman with a classics education. So even though I don’t have children of my own and – as an example only – her discussions about childbirth were of no personal interest, because of her thinking, her philosophy, her superior writing, I find that I cannot go a day without checking in on her blog.
Her trolls, unlike mine, castigate her about everything with which they disagree, and they do so publicly. Mine only cost me a couple of hundred bucks and a half bottle of scotch; hers must cost her pieces of her heart if not her soul, with their bitter, angry, vituperative attitudes. I’d rather give up the money & drink the scotch than have to face such anger so frequently. I think Catherine is very brave. And hysterically funny. And if we lived near each other, I would ask her to meet me for coffee and cupcakes, and possible some prosecco, and just talk.
Which is getting me off topic, which is… If you choose to put yourself out there, to go on line with your deepest or your silliest thoughts, with your greatest anxieties or most exciting challenges, with your worst failures or your happiest triumphs, how much sharing is enough to tell the story clearly and how much is TMI?
I’m better with the happy stuff – I tell those stories, take a quick bow or two, and get off the stage, knowing that warm fuzziness is coming back in emails and even phone calls from friends who will say ‘well done’.
The unhappy stuff – the things that haunt me long after they should, that hurt me long after they should – those I play around with like an ugly, half-healed scab on my knees. And those are the ones that get me into trouble, twice over. Once because they happened and they hurt, and twice because I cannot stop writing about them. Maybe because they are half-healed. Maybe if I had a chance, or gave myself the chance, to resolve the challenges, the unhappy stuff, I could stop scratching.
Sounds way too mature… ‘cause inside me there’s this 8-year old who loves to scratch at scabs and dissect snakes and climb too-tall trees and other precipitous activities that assuredly get me into trouble. Even while having a little fun. And maybe that’s what I think of living a TMI life on line. Maybe the tree I’ve chosen to climb is a little tall… Maybe the snake I have in front of me to dissect is slighty poisonous… Maybe I just want to see what happens when you mix vinegar and baking soda and shake vigorously……
So is there an answer to TMI and the internet? Probably the only answer is to read what you choose, write for yourself, ignore the trolls, and have fun. And please don’t be stupid about what you send to friends, enemies or frenemies on-line!