We recently watched the documentary “We live in Public“. It’s disturbing, prophetic, confronting and thought-provoking. While it’s an extreme version of the lives almost all of us live, the elements many of us play with each day inch closer to “living in public”.

The ubiquitousness of social networking, recording devices and ease of worldwide distribution in merely a few years has changed what each generation understands as being public versus private.

I’m all for engaging with social media and I love using Facebook and Twitter, reading blogs, video conferencing and using my iphone. But at the same time, I found myself reflecting on some of the comments made in the documentary – made years before the advent of these things:

  • How people find their self-worth based in the number of comments, or reads, or likes or numbers of “friends”.
  • How people are crying out to be heard and to get their 15 minutes of fame every day.
  • How we think we’re getting community online but we often feel more alone.
  • How we trade privacy for connections with people.
  • How we forget how public things are when we’re immersed in a culture with no privacy.

When I found myself in the emergency room of hospital ten days ago, I sent txt messages to close friends and family – but didn’t tweet about it. I wanted to know that the people I love deeply knew first. Years ago, news would take quite a while to circulate in a circle of friends and acquaintances but now it can be done in an instant – globally.

I’ve seen numerous times people forget this on Facebook or Twitter and stress about making sure someone knew before they were told by someone else – rather than directly. From the outside, it may seem silly that someone should “forget” that anyone can read it, but once immersed in social media it is hard to remember what private means.

Another result of watching the documentary: I recently did a cull of people on Facebook – names I didn’t recognise, or people I had never exchanged communication with on there. There were surprisingly lots of them and it actually felt good to do a spring-clean.

I also was reflecting on my sister’s comments about how she always left a comment if she looked through a set of someone’s photos on Facebook – she felt a bit stalkerish without doing so. That’s quite a nice thing to do and it really doesn’t take time – let someone know you’ve noticed, you’re interested, you’re there. We read so many blog posts and then skip on to the next interesting thing without stopping to engage – because it’s not required. We’ve swap ease of access for probably less engagement. Yes we don’t have to sit through boring slideshows of other people’s trips and can pick and choose what we want to see, but we’ve lost all those real conversations, the context around the photos – the laughing together, the eating, the swapping of stories. They can be gained online, but it’s more work than we’re used to.

PS, I’m fine!

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