Must everything be public?

When I was waxing nostalgic over old school blogging last week, I neglected to mention one very prevalent aspect of blogging back in the good ol’ days: we were militant about protecting our true identities. No one used their real names, and if we did we only used our first name. We didn’t dare mention our kids by name and rarely did we post pictures of them. Certainly we never mentioned where we lived.

I read a post back then by one of the top women bloggers at the time warning of the dangers of posting pictures on your blog. I suppose this was well before the popularity of mommy and photography blogs. It wasn’t our modern day allegiance to the right to privacy that motivated our use of pseudonyms, we feared the nameless someone with nefarious intentions who was somewhere out there on the internet ready to do harm to us or our kids.

I remember setting up my blog and brainstorming possible names and corresponding url’s. “lisaspence” was available then through the site I was using but, as I said, I feared the exposure of my true identity. So I became “Lisa writes…” and in fact it was many years before I changed my domain and began posting under my real name. My Twitter username is still “lisa_writes”.

What changed? I’m no sociologist but it seems that along came the social media explosion with Facebook and Twitter taking over our online interactions and suddenly we realized we could be online as our real selves and it was okay. Not only was it okay but, as I mentioned in that earlier post, broadcasting who you really were became critical for the branding of your site, nay your very selves.

It seems to me the pendulum has now swung from paranoia to the extreme opposite. Where we once hesitated in posting anything remotely personal, now everything is public. Our conversations, our criticisms, our complaints, our confessionals–it’s all out there for all the world to see. Sometimes, when I read a Facebook status report or a tweet that reveals (what I hope is) more than the author intends, I wonder: must everything be public?

It’s a good question and, just keepin’ it real, it didn’t exactly originate with me. My friend Kim ruminated on this topic on her site, articulating some of my same reservations with the overexposure of ourselves online.

The danger of carrying out so much of our interaction in the public square is, obviously, that sometimes we say too much. Our lack of discretion can not only lead to inappropriate revelations about ourselves but also to cliques and division and the sorts of brouhahas that seem to overtake Christian media on any given day or week. I know for me personally social media can at times depress. Not just because of all the arguing, all the time arguing, but because sometimes, and only some times, I feel like I’m on the outside looking in while all the cool kids exchange links and tags and emoticons. It’s the horror of middle school all over again! There are, of course, more complicating factors to my pervasive insecurity that your Facebook statuses but, still, it’s something to think about as we consider how much we say online and why we say it.

I understand that social media is, by its very nature, media and thus public. I’m not advocating Luddism but I am asking that we think about where is the line may be and when is it crossed. In Kim’s post she offers some advice for engaging online with wisdom and discretion, well worth your time to read. I find asking myself why I am sharing this post–or that status or this tweet–to be a beneficial practice. Am I angry? Wanting to impress? Showing off? I don’t deny the element of self promotion that is inherent in anything we do via social media so I try to ask: why exactly is it I am clamoring for attention? These are genuine temptations and ones we would do well to guard against.

Another good question: is social media the best platform for what I want to say? For instance if I am thanking someone for a gift, why tag them on Facebook? Why not a handwritten note or a personal email (which need not necessarily be a contradiction in terms)?

Must everything be public?

Again, let me reiterate: I am not calling for the end of social media. I am advocating wisdom and discretion and evaluation. The conversations I have online have proven not only thought provoking and challenging but also fun. I enjoy our interactions and I look forward to many more on any of the platforms whereby our virtual paths may cross.

In order to hopefully foster more personal interaction, I’m going to attempt something different here at the blog: I’m closing comments. I know that seems counterintuitive! I still welcome comments and conversation and I’d love for you to respond to this post and any other by contacting me via email, lisa {at} lisaspence {dot} com. You may also shoot me a Facebook message or Twitter DM. In other words, let me know what you think! I hope that an email exchange, for example, may prove more edifying than a comment box. Like I said, it’s an experiment and we will see how it works out…


Author: Lisa Spence

Wife, mother, Bible teacher, bibliophile, occasional blogger

2 thoughts on “Must everything be public?”

  1. YES! I so agree with this. I cringe when people put on FB that they enjoyed dinner with friends and then tag them or thank someone for a note or gift on FB. What happened to the days of elementary school when we were taught not to discuss in public things to which other people weren’t invited?

    I still don’t post pics of my kids or use their name on my blog because it’s so public. I’m careful about who I friend on my personal FB timeline. My last name has been connected on FB to my blog due to other people using it, but I’m still as cautious as possible.

    I especially appreciate the words of caution I’ve read recently to young moms about not blogging/posting on FB so many details of their children’s lives – even innocent funny stories, and certainly embarrassing, albeit cute, anecdotes – that should remain private. Protecting their dignity is important too.

    Hugs to you!

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