The online world gives us an amazing ability. It allows us to bypass the traditional publishing gateways and move our own content online. From artist to business person, educator to entrepreneur, people of all kinds are creating the kinds of careers they want. PR and exposure is now freely available.
But are we paying a high price for this exquisite online democracy? Does living in public have a downside?
Instead of a playground of self expression, are we fanning ourselves with the flames of future problems?
Let’s take a look at some of the ways over-exposure online may be harming, not helping, our business and lifestyle endeavours.
The case of the teenage mouthpieces
Cassi Van Den Dungen. Essena O’Neill. Here are two names in the media recently for having social media meltdowns.
The runner up to Australia’s Next Top Model, Cassi berated her Instagram followers for not responding to her holiday joy. The internet reacted in kind. She took it one step further by berating the people who objected to being berated. The posts have since disappeared, but it made more than a few headlines before she hit the delete key.
Vegan lifestyle advocate and model, Essena O’Neill became the girl who quit social media in spectacular fashion. Essena broke down and declared “social media is not real life”, only to setup a website ‘Let’s Be Game Changers’ and a Vimeo channel instead. Former internet friends Nina and Randa used their platform to condemn Essena for an apparent personal attack. Essena was also criticised for asking for people to fund her writing via a support me page.
Comments about the cluelessness of both young women escalated into abuse. Concerns about their mental health seeped through. Their inability to judge the real world from their seemingly lucky lives has littered the internet.
But let’s take a step back here for a moment.
At 16, Cassi was famous for being a mouthy, hard to deal with runner up of a televised modelling competition. She’s now only 23 and has continued to court controversy. Essena O’Neill has been an internet identity for most of her teens and only recently turned 18.
Both young women have been conditioned to (and allowed themselves) accept social media as the main metrics for their success. How they look online makes them money. Essena cries into the camera in one of her videos about the cost of over-exposure online on her teenage mental health.
And at no time has anyone stepped in to filter their comments. Or to explain to them the detrimental effects of laying it all bare.
Instead, they received condemnation and judgement. They’ve deleted their profiles and hope the screen captures on news outlets disappear.
This is not to say teenagers can’t be absolute narcissistic jerks. It comes with the job description with a healthy teen mind to test boundaries and be painfully arrogant at times. Yet the internet is socialising their identity. It is also playing the role of peer.
Maybe that’s the problem?
“If Bob jumped off the bridge, would you do it too?”
“It’s not what’s on the outside, it’s inside that counts”
“Who cares what the other kids think!”
How difficult is it to get these messages through to teenagers now? They live online desperately seeking likes, loves, comments and follows. All based on their glamorous lives, gorgeous appearances and the “be like me” factor.
The Pandora’s Box is open. And it’s waving a flag to spread everything onto the internet finish line.
But at what cost? Especially when the internet is dreadfully unforgiving as the lack of filter in the celebrity meets the onlooker?
Looking too closely at the mirror
Social media is creating fame for business people. Roll up, roll up with your fancy all about you website and your sassy social media commentary. Be the notable human and make money off being amazing you.
In the brave you world, we invite overwork. We overindulge on the internet and social media. And we craft ourselves a persona that is seeking to reach the most people possible. Even the words we use- the tribe, the fans, and the followers– are all designed to create the guru aesthetic.
But what is behind the next business guru? The rock-star who doesn’t actually rock? The personality you go to for what they do?
As the ability to rise to the top by being in business continues, the art of doing business behind closed doors is lost. If people don’t see you doing it, you mustn’t be very good, right?
Yet that lack of privacy is problematic.
Georgetown law professor Julie E. Cohen summed it up best when she explained:
“Privacy is shorthand for breathing room to engage in the process of … self-development.”
By forgoing our privacy, we further limit our ability to develop within oneself outside the glare of the public eye.
We further stymie it with a focus on production. Re-purposing of content makes us stay within the realm of expectation. It causes us to put production volume above deep introspection and thought.
The doing replaces the being. Spread yourself around and hope it doesn’t become too thin.
So are we cheating ourselves of big gulps of private air? By entertaining the pressure to be what people want online and to be consistent, do we rob ourselves of reflection? Are we stunting our self development in favour of peer approval?
Mass production is not without its problems. So why then are we encouraging it into knowledge gathering and intellectual pursuits?
Every breath you take, every smilie you make, I’ll be watching you
When we live in public, we also have to recognise there are limitations to how well that can go.
We all know the stories of the famous movie stars and rock musicians. The ones who, despite being rich and famous, appear unstable and unhappy. We watch as they battle addiction, bad relationships, mental health problems and other issues. We’re curious about why the famous seem so broken.
What we fail to realise in the quest for fame is that the talented person who becomes famous hasn’t had the slate wiped clean. They have not had their crappy childhood reset. They haven’t forgotten where they came from. Their head, with its problematic, sensitive organic chemistry remains. So too do their addictions and failures.
The only difference is they are now a piece of public property. And as such, they deal with a lack of privacy as well as their existing issues. And it all gets magnified by the lack of privacy.
But this is not only the realm of famous musician or politicians.
Social media can be problematic for our sense of privacy over time. French podcaster and blogger, Patrick Beja, eloquently sums up why this over exposure can begin to erode us:
“Try thinking of “surveillance” (social media) as an acquaintance being in the same room as you, even when you want to be alone. They’re not being harmful, they’re just there, having coffee, and occasionally glancing over. Of course it’ll affect what you do, and that restricts your freedom. That’s what the lack of privacy does.”
The new internet age of entrepreneurship implores you to plonk your entire business online. People gather at social media to share every single win and defeat, fight the power and keep harvesting interaction. And instead of the one person in the room, you’re asking 100 people to join you.
That has to be an exhausting way to live over time.
Delete key? What delete key?
We all make mistakes. Yet social media has them in black and white for all to see. And many of us who work in this sector have seen the crumbling face of our peers lose the plot.
We’ve seen the private room asides and the public meltdowns. In our inbox are the stories and the snark. Some of us even get privy to the tears and the self doubt.
The over-exposed and the under-appreciated line up for their daily show and tell. Because they feel they have to. The pressure to be on the new social media platform and to be the next generation of online celebrity is enormous. Exhausting and invasive, you have to be in it to win it, so you dive in thinking the other person is right on the money.
But you never really know if the money is there. Or at what emotional price has been paid to facilitate the financial reward.
Removing the teeth from online exposure
Let’s not be the actor who thinks the money and fame will fix the deep, dark hole. Instead, let’s realise social media for what it is. It’s a beautiful tool we use to amplify ourselves. But it doesn’t change who we are.
Yes, it provides comfort to us by allowing free expression. But it will also invite scrutiny and comment. And that the expression we receive in return may not be valuable to our own circumstances. It may not be what we want to hear.
Perhaps instead of seeking affirmation, challenging how we use this amazing tool is exactly what we need. But not while we’re breaking ourselves into teeny, tiny text sized pieces to please others.
Recognise we’re pack animals and that comparison is a natural part of how we’ve survived for as long as we have. And we get blinded by someone recognising what we do as sensational, even if it’s barely worth noticing.
We do observe social media in an affirmation of our person, business, style and personality. We choose to compare ourselves to motivate a better approach to what we do.
And we fall into envy when we’ve become too focussed on the comparison.
But we can derive meaning. Set goals and tasks and propel ourselves forward based not on what others think, but on what matters to us. Instead of choosing business as a substitute for fame or freedom, it can be a vehicle for change. Or it can be something that makes us feel worthwhile.
It’s a matter of working out whether we want to dine with the wolf or make sure he doesn’t make a meal of us.