The Public Self

I have been thinking all today (which will be yesterday quite shortly) about how we construct an image of our lives and selves on the internet. It’s probably a topic that has been done to death before in other places, but seems to be pressing on my brain a fair old amount, so it’s going to get look at by yours truly.

I use Facebook and this blog to communicate with friends, relatives and curious strangers. On Facebook, I keep up social contacts, and here I blether about my writing ambitions/weird things I saw while walking around New York.  I try to maintain a particular tone dependant on the medium. Upbeat, generally, wry, flippant, on Facebook, thoughtful, amusing, insightful (as much as my limitations allow) on this. You get the drift. I don’t want to appear overly mopey or irritable (which I often am) . Likewise I don’t want to go into politics too much – despite being a fairly political person, it doesn’t come into my writing, and in general I side with those writers who work the same way. Fiction books, with rare exceptions, are terrible platforms for advocating social change. Slow, unwieldy and then there is the horror of the utterly cringeworthy mouthpiece character, which as a reader I loathe with a passion, even when they are shouting out for my favourite causes.

Religion is another major area that I keep mum about, especially on Facebook, where there are a huge divisions of opinion. Personally, I think that religious belief or lack of it does not need to be ranted over, since something so intensely personal is never changed by a single line of reasoning, and in general a great deal of hurt is done through the tedious assumptions of the opposing party’s vast and embarrassing inferiority in the light of the accusing party’s fabulously acute mind, and in Scotland, the charming old conker of sectarianism. Diametric opposition is the order of the day, never nuance or multiplicity of thought.

I think that it is not necessarily important or advisable to reveal the force of what you believe is your whole self , even on a whim, on the back of a conviction. Unless you see an injustice being committed and wish to speak out about it, or are commited to a confessional style that shoots truth like cathartic laser beams into the murk of human experience. Even then, pausing to formulate a response that doesn’t make you look insensitive or ignorant is pretty much just reasonable behaviour. There’s a great phrase over here, ‘check your privilege’  that seems to sum that up. It’s used mostly to make one aware of their relatively well-off position in society. You might think that, as a well educated, mostly kind human being, whatever comes out of your fingertips will be kind and clever, but we all have our off days. I think the privilege afforded by the internet is the ability to speak our best selves into being, if only on the page. Why be petty, or dismissive, reductionist or grandiose (or my favourite, ‘blandiose’ – attempting to grandeur and achieving only mediocrity) when you have these acres of complex, interconnecting space to think things out?

Ooof. Well, I’m mostly talking myself into being better. One way to start – never read youtube comments, and always ask if you’d be happy to say your opinion out loud to someone you knew believed differently (phrasing it the exact way, no alcohol for confidence).

Anyway, here is something inspiring after all that, the Brooklyn Public Library (enlarge for text)

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Filed under The Now, Theory

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