I suspect that I’m like most people when I say that my on-line social activity has gone through a number of phases of evolution.
If you were to look through my Twitter feed or Facebook newsfeed from a few years ago you will see that they are much more active than today. One measure of this activity would be frequency of posts, which has dropped significantly. Another measure would be the number of direct posts where I write something directly in Twitter or Facebook, which has all but stopped. If you could measure openness you’d also notice that I’m less revealing about my emotions, my location, my family, my faith even. I’ve made a conscious choice to be less publicly social.
There are a number of reasons for this, some of them are about simplicity and basic privacy. One of the major reasons, though, has been the realisation that we are all public figures now and I’m not sure I’m ready for that.
At first I thought that being publicly social would in turn give the opportunity to be famous, I’m not talking about global fame just recognisable-in-my-own-little-world famous.
Then I started to see some people become social-media famous and it wasn’t a good thing to witness.
At one end I saw situations where people were trying to make a serious point only to be misunderstood and ridiculed. This isn’t a new phenomena, fame has always been like that, Francis Bacon put it like this:
Fame is like a river, that beareth up things light and swollen, and drowns things weighty and solid.
At the other end of the spectrum I saw people’s lives torn apart by being exposed to the shouting-mob. Jon Ronson researched the experience of many people including Justine Sacco who he highlighted in this TED talk (below). The research resulted in him writing a book with the title: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.
There are many cases of ‘ordinary’ people being thrust into the public glare and shamed:
- A scientist who lands a spacecraft on an asteroid is castigated for his chosen shirt.
- A Nobel prize-winning scientist has his career ended by a joke about women in science – “I have become toxic. I have been hung to dry by academic institutes who have not even bothered to ask me for my side of affairs.”
- A woman takes a stupid picture at the Arlington National Cemetery and becomes global news.
- A business executive who posts a video trying to make a point at a chicken restaurant ends up losing his job.
I’m not condoning any of these actions, personally I wouldn’t do any of them. What is scary is to see that these are ‘ordinary’ people thrust into the public glare with a few clicks on a screen and the amplification of the social platforms.
I’ve never liked mobs and I certainly don’t want to be part of one, or even associated with one. So, for now, I’ve decided to be a bit less public.
I did wonder about going far more private on my settings, but I’ve decided against that for now.