Thursday, October 7, 2010

Online Authenticity, Identity, Vulnerability

Our world is changing so much. With blogging and Facebook and Twitter we are able to share more of ourselves with the world and with various types of people, with people we know in different settings, and even with people we don't know at all.

I was talking to a friend of mine yesterday who I'll call S. She recently tried Facebook and then opted out. She realized that she had so many different kinds of friends and family members and decided she wanted her privacy after all. There were people she friended who she knew well and trusted. Then there were the family members that she might not want to share all of her life with. There were people she hardly knew who would also be her Facebook friends. She chose for right now not to expose her life to this wide and diverse group of people. It didn't feel safe for her right now. I completely understand why she did this.

I've been blogging for so many years, and have, over the years, revealed more and more of myself here. Still, there are many things that I haven't revealed. A general standard I use is that if I would be okay with it published on the front page of our town paper or brought up about me in a lawsuit, then it would be okay for me to blog about. The types of things that have fallen into that standard have increased more and more over the years. Now, I don't mind people knowing about me dealing with depression, or having struggles with my weight, or knowing my feelings about any number of things.

Over the years the number and breadth of participants in my online life has expanded. It includes people who are distant relatives, total strangers, people I've worked for, people who have worked for me, estranged family members, close family members, old friends, people from high school, people I dearly love (that's probably YOU), and even one bizarre old-friend-turned-stalker.

I guess the hardest thing is revealing parts of my soul to people who I call "my enemies". Now I know that some of you don't believe in enemies per se, but I consider them people who would be happy at my misfortune. I do have enemies by this definition. Most of these so-called enemies have very little to do with me in my offline life, but then for some reason choose to read my blog. Unnerving. It can be hard to be vulnerable to them. However, over the years as I've let go of much of the shame for being who I am, for admitting the ways in which I'm less than than perfect, I feel comfortable with my enemies knowing my weaknesses and vulnerable areas. For me it is part of learning how to love my enemies. But it has been and continues to be a process.

Another challenging yet beautiful part of having an online identity is integrating the different personas I have. Being just one person, the same in every situation. Not everyone wants to do this, of course. I do. It's scary, but it helps me grow in a direction that's really good for me right now.

Some people do this really successfully and I admire them. They are authentic and revealing. They put themselves out there and don't hold back. I am learning to do this. This doesn't mean that I don't have a private life--because I definitely do. It's just that people can know me in a way that wasn't really possible before to any but my closest friends--and they may at the same time even be a stranger to me. Or they may be a kind and savvy salesperson wanting to know more about me before making a sale (this has happened to me). Or someone coming to work for me in my home (this has happened too). Or they may be my enemy.

Learning to be authentic, having no persona at all, and being vulnerable in chosen ways is very helpful for me in dealing with accepting myself for who I am; I'm not saying it's right for everyone at every time, but just that it's right for me, now. I like being just one real person--me.

What I'm wondering is how you feel about this in your own online life...any insights or even tidbits you might want to share. Not so much about revealing things about other people, but in revealing things about you. I want to learn from you.


patti said...

Mmm food for thought!

I don't reveal too much on my blog about my life in advance, or share too much about my family and friends (pics etc) to protect them and myself. I often feel like sharing more online, but hold back to keep my privacy. I don't believe I'm being paranoid, it is simply caution. I have not had any problems though (touch wood!)

I was on facebook as you may remember O, but opted out mostly because it was too much social minutae that I simply didn't have time for and not too much privacy there!

You are right about not writing about anything that you wouldn't happily see on the front page of a newspaper. It's a good rule of thumb!

kate i said...

Great post Olivia! I've shared some of my own struggles online where they pertain to me alone but if they involve someone else, I usually don't cross that boundary out of respect for them.

I truly believe though, that our true strength comes from our willingness to be vulnerable and it also gives others permission to be more open about themselves.

I've always admired your courage and willingness to be open Olivia! You're a beacon of light in your willingness to put issues on the table for discussion.

Olivia said...

Patti, Yes, lots, and I appreciate your insights adding to it. I agree with you that there is little/no true privacy on FB. The harm is that most people do not know this. Your blog is pretty private--a safe, beautiful space to retreat to. Thank you for commenting on this sensitive subject, xoO

kate, thanks, I continue to find that balance between openness and privacy and it is a challenge. I agree with you about not posting things that are someone else's business. And even if they are MY business because the other person has involved me, I still do not write about it because the other person has a right to privacy. Sometimes we discuss it and they agree that it would be fine for me to post. Still I figure that people come to my blog to read MY thoughts and about MY life and not someone else's...thank you for your kind words, kate, xoO

Seeking Simplicity said...

Happy Saturday Sweet Olivia...

This entry is very thought provoking...I am on Facebook but there have been times I might have said something and then someone at work misinterpreted what I meant. So only have a handful of friends from work as a friend.

I do worry about privacy and sometimes revealing I'm going to be away.

I think however, being online has definitely brought out more creativity for me, through my photos and my cooking. Recently my sister gave me a journal filled with photos of my artwork that I had posted online. When I saw the quantity I was amazed that I had even created half the items.

Take care....

Ang aka EB

Olivia said...

Thanks for your comment, EB. I agree with you about bringing out creativity. I think it's a balancing act--weighing the pros and cons, don't you? Then if it comes out to keep going we just tolerate the risk.

I hope you have a Sweet Saturday too, my friend!

CrystalChick said...

As far as I'm aware, only a couple people from my daily life know about my blog. I don't think they are currently reading it because they are more into FB now and I don't blog regularly anyway. I do not give my addy here out to anyone now and I don't link it on FB.
Because I blog with pictures, I sometimes wonder if someone else I know might stumble upon it but not tell me. But I don't think I talk about anything too controversial and the few times I've gone on a major rant it was because I needed to and the issues weren't any big secret. Like for instance, I blogged about my MIL once or twice, altho I think I removed those posts and they are only in the draft file now.
At FB, I do have my page set to private and try to keep up on the settings there. Because I upload ALOT of pictures I do keep those viewable only to friends. I would like to delete some people from my friend list but haven't yet. It's not anyone that has caused me trouble but there are a few people who I went to school with 30 years ago that I don't quite see the point in being connected to now. I accepted their friend requests to be nice but we never talk or comment on each other's pages. So it does bug me a little bit that they have access to my life that way. Still, it's up to me to make the deletion.
As for being okay with some of the things I post to be published on the front page of the town paper or revealed in a lawsuit, I would probably be a bit embarrassed of a few things. I have a strange sense of humor and I know there are those who don't quite get it or may take it the wrong way but if I toned it down all the time then I just wouldn't be being ME. LOL

Olivia said...


Thank you for your comment, which brings up the point that there are SO many issues related to FB! There are so many nuances that we don't even realize it; it's almost an entirely different culture there.

Last night I watched a taped 20/20 about the movie Catfish in which a young filmmaker falls in love with a woman online who isn't real at all but whom he has known and loved through FB. But she doesn't exist! Yet he still loves her. I would love to converse with people about that show!

Peace and love to you, O

a life artist said...

i think facebook is good for business and promotion but i am not sre i wish to share there but that's me so i only add the people i admire and follow them sometimes (i wonder how they handle the posting there, too?) i am happy blogging i guess and yes the vulnerability part, ayayayyyy, yes it probably bugs me if i think too much, te-hee!
Carmen Nessman

Jane said...

Blogging has and always will be a place that feels authentic and deeply personal for me. Knock on wood, I've only had one nasty comment in the 5 plus years I've been here and that person chose to be anonymous. I would say that I am about 95% open book and the other 5% gets written down in my journal where I really vent and work things out. I know there are extended family members who read my blog. At first it felt invasive until I realized that if I'm willing to put it out there to potentially millions of strangers, it's up for grabs by anyone.

I have a FB account but rarely go there. It seems very surface and superficial to me which is totally the opposite of who I am. Sometimes I have to laugh when I get a friend request from someone I have not seen since high school and even then I didn't really know them .

Social technology is both a curse and a blessing. Some people violate others by posting youtube videos and such. My own daughter is so hooked on vegging out on her lap top all day that I can't remember the last time she just went outside and played and got some fresh air.

Olivia said...

Carmen, Yes that vulnerability part is hard, I don't dwell on what could happen either. Peace and love to you, O

Olivia said...

Jane, blogging also feels that way to me. Writing is a creation, and I think we both write from our souls.

I think FB is fun and the weird thing is that I am friends with people from high school that I knew but wasn't really friends with then. I think that time changes things and sometimes you have more in common with different people than you did back then. Or maybe more people.

Social technology definitely has to be kept in balance, doesn't it!! Wish I was better at it, too.

Love to you, Jane, O

Anonymous said...

Olivia, thank you so much for this post. There is a lot here to think about. xo K

Olivia said...

You're welcome, Kelly :) xxO