Saturday, September 1, 2012

Information Overload?

First off, apologies for my “voice”.  I've been watching a lot of Dr. Who recently, and have apparently regressed to my original dialect (sort of a just-north-of-London one I got growing up in Cambridge). So, if *I* have to cope with it, you bleeding well have to as well. See? We’re all in agreement. Brilliant!

Right, so the thing about blogging and posting and tweeting is that it’s a two-edged sword, with one edge of the blade being your readers get to know a lot about you, and the other one being – well, your readers get to learn a lot about you.

This can be problematic if you are a mild-mannered and pleasant Dr. Jekyll in person, but turn into an opinionated, obnoxious and right proper git of a Hyde online. Most sane people (regardless of whether or not they agree with you) will back away from you in real life and be much more wary, stunting your social life considerably. Hopefully, I have managed to avoid this particular trap, but feel free to smack me if not.
Another pitfall is that you overshare. You overshare your passion for – oh, I dunno – Lego Porn or mosquito babies or something, and post dozens of photos of the little bloodsuckers everyday with annoying comments about how adorable ‘ickle pookums is or “just look at the number of bricks it took to make THIS orgy”  while the rest of us recoil in horror. So, if this is you, for the love of Baby Jesus, please stop. Now. Thanks ever so.

On the other hand (and, like Tevye, I have several metaphorical hands so this could get interesting), you open yourself up to your readers in a very unusual way. They get to know far more about you, your interests, woes and emotions - and that makes you vulnerable. You have to take a leap of faith that this won’t backfire in some horrible way, and simply write what you feel compelled to - what you love. And trust your readers.

So far, nothing I've written in this blog or on other social media has truly come back to haunt me, but the same cannot be said about text messages. Because they are often context-free zones, and I am a very literal person – I am often left to guess about the meaning, emotions or background associated with the content, with the only thing to go on being the words directly in front of me. On far too many occasions, I have guessed wrong, with unhappy results.  So, still lots of work left to do there, me.

But, on the other hand discovering that your kid enjoys reading your blogs because they find out something interesting about their dad each time is brilliant. I mean, after years of the usual teen-vs.-parent struggle we've been through, to find a medium that lets you connect in a new way is, well, fantastic, yeah?

Then again, on the other hand (toldyaso), is this *too much* information for kids to have about their parents? I mean, it’s fine for my son, since he’s an adult and I’m totally cool with him at this age understanding that his dad is a human being with weaknesses, doubts, and problems. But what if you are a blogger talking about all sorts of personal things and your Tween kid stumbles on it? Doesn't that blow your air of authority right out of the water? I grew up in a time where children knew very little about their parents, apart from the usual up-front stuff: home town, interests, relatives, etc. Nothing about emotions, problems or anything that was not to be discussed “in front of the kids”.

As a child, I only saw my dad cry once – and that was when I opened the bedroom door without knocking. I had no idea what his struggles were, and so I thought he was above them. This made him seem invincible and all-knowing, which was helpful, no doubt, in keeping me in line. But these days, we there is a tendency to tell everyone about yourself in painstaking detail.

Every Tweet, every post, every blog and – yes – every text – reveals to the world a little more about the real *you*. The you who in previous times, only your closest, most intimate of friends or family members would know. Now – if you’re not careful – it’s all out there for the world to see. And maybe that’s a good thing – makes us all more open, more accessible. Or, it could be very bad, as people who care not at all for you use all that free information to damage your family, yourself, and your reputation.

I’m not saying that we should all go back to the bygone days of pen-and-paper, mailed correspondences. Just that we should have a care when talking about things – innocent things even, like “I’m at a party with so-and-so” letting your readers know you aren't at home and the house is empty. Or that so-and-so is with you when he/she said they were somewhere else.

It’s a tricky, tricky thing, this free and easy information. It’ll be interesting to see how it will continue to shape and change our digital society – and ourselves.