While I was recently
dealing with my shit breaking up crying having more anxiety than one should have in a year reevaluating my priorities, I decided to actively take some time off from the Internet. Figured that it wouldn't hurt to gain some perspective, and honestly, y'all don't really want the full details of what I'm calling The Two Weeks Where Everything Went Wrong (and then some. And then some. And I couldn't even have a Grilled Cheese to make it better, InsultToInjuryDotCom)™ So I went on a Social media fast. And it was enlightening. (Keep reading…you know you want to.)
You know how you sometimes find yourself walking into a room and get there, only to find that you have no idea why you were going there in the first place? Was it to get that book from the shelf? Print out that doc? Find the dog's chew toy? YOU HAVE NO IDEA. All you know is that you're standing in the living room, perplexed, where you think you are supposed to be but somehow in the time that it took you to walk the twenty steps from your bedroom, you forgot your purpose? That's where I was finding myself with social media, especially Twitter. I was at a place that was familiar and comfortable to me, but why was I there? What was I doing there? Had I forgotten the purpose?
Maybe. As I've said many times before, I wear my heart on my sleeve. I over-share. It's who I am, and I don't really apologize for it. Granted, I am actively trying to curtail my usage of colorful language (and I'm not talking about chartreuse, though I really should use that descriptor more often), and subscribe to the theory where if you don't say anything, you won't have anything to regret later. Except online, I found that I WAS saying things. Not things that I regretted, per se, but the boundaries between private and public were becoming blurred. Where was the appropriate place to draw the line? Had I crossed it?
To caveat this, I didn't retreat entirely from social media, I just abstained from Twitter specifically, and posted a handful of things on Facebook, checked in at a few places on Foursquare, and (most frequently), shared my status on Hot Potato. The common thread between these platforms is that my social graph is much smaller on each of these, and consists solely of friends. By contrast, Twitter entails 14,000+ friends AND followers, the majority of which I don't know in person. Without realizing it at the time, I was changing my audience to see how it changed the content that I shared.
The surprising thing was that it didn't change the content, per se, it just changed WHERE I shared it to. I was clearly comfortable saying what I had been – and note that nothing was overly personal, nor too descriptive, nor including any other people in my updates – but this time, I was sharing it only amongst friends. Which, frankly, is how I got here in the first place; the proverbial reason why I walked into the living room.
I started a website in 2000 as a way to share what I was doing on my travels en masse. I was sending out emails to a few dozen people as I was (amazingly luckily) finding myself in Australia, New Zealand, England, France, and Spain for weeks on end. And while I had a distribution list of my friends who wanted to hear about me falling asleep in my soup (again) or sleeping through my date with the hot surf instructor AND the bridge climb instructor (sporting instructors clearly liked me in Sydney in 2001), I kept leaving people off and decided to instead build one of these websites so anyone who wanted to hear about the ridiculousity that was my life could do so whenever they wanted. So I got my web team to do me a favor and teach me tools like Adobe Illustrator and lend me a server and voila! AubreySabala.com 1.0 was created. Fast forward ten years, and while the technology has changed, the core purpose of the site hasn't: I wanted to connect with people and share content. And yet it still poses the same problems.
I've always struggled with access; In many ways my life is an open book, but remember: I CHOOSE what I put out here. People often think they know me because of what they read on my website or Twitter; I quickly know if someone knows me by how they address me when I meet them. If it's someone I've never met before and they call me Aubs, I'm instantly clued in that they may have read what I've written somewhere on the internet. And that's completely fine – I'm putting it out there, but know that I'm painfully aware of what I'm saying. And who I'm saying it to. Which leads me back to access; when someone that was in your life is no longer in your life, at least in a physical manner, it seems somehow unfair that they still get the same amount of access to you as they did before. Take a breakup: Eight years ago – long before the rise of social networking – I broke up with my then-boyfriend. We didn't speak; he lived in another city. But I could tell from my website stats that he was going to my site ten, twelve, twenty times a day. I found that out, and I WAS ANGRY. I wrote a post here (it's in some old archive) basically telling him that if he wanted to be in my life, BE IN MY LIFE. But if not, GO AWAY. Didn't seem fair that he had it both ways.
Today, we're faced with even more complications. As the CNN article recently pointed out (and astutely, I think, for all your horrible haters and commenters), breaking up today is a very different world than it was fifteen years ago. You have to deal with many social networks and online connections. And you're basically met with two choices: defriend the person, or censor yourself. Neither is a perfect solution; to me, defriending someone who just days ago knew your every thought and watched you breathe when you slept and was closer to you than anyone else seems unnecessarily cruel. (Granted, I'm only talking about the experiences I've had; I've maintained friendships with most of my exes and while probably easier in some senses, out of respect for them and what we had, I don't see the need for actions that extreme. I'm probably wrong here, but whatever. It's what I'm comfortable with.) The other option – censoring what you say – is also sub-optimal, since in essence you're changing your behaviour for someone who is no longer in your life. And so recently, I found myself with no real solution that sat well with me, and decided to change my method of sharing. Spent more time alone. Wrote in my journal. Wrote on this website. Published bits and pieces – innocuous ones – amongst a trusted circle of friends. Basically, I removed any ability I would have to be overly emotional, sappy, passive-aggressive, and if I needed to work something through, I did it by myself.
And it's been interesting. While I've refrained from posting on Twitter, I have read it now and again (disclaimer: I have to for my job.) And save for a few (what I consider) hilariously witty Tweets that I've saved as draft for another day, I found myself missing most the @ replies and connections that I was making with friends. (To note: I pretty much only follow people I know in person on Twitter, save for a few dozen accounts that make me laugh or provide me with interesting content. You know, like @shitmydadsays.) I had to hold myself back from telling someone a good place to eat in NYC or suggest a new song that I had discovered; it surprisingly wasn't the personal Tweets that I felt I was holding back. Which – had you asked me in advance – I would have said exactly the opposite. Enlightening, to say the least.
And so after a week, I'm concluding this self-imposed experiment. I've learned some interesting things about the way I communicate, the way I ingest - and more importantly, share – content, and e
xactly WHAT I feel comfortable sharing, not to mention where.
So I'm in the proverbial living room with intention. With defined purpose. Mindful of where I'm at and why I'm here. And I'm happy to be here again, even if everything and nothing is the same.