Pick your favorite movie: The one you tell everyone you like, the movie you put on your OKCupid and Facebook profiles, the movie you talk about on a first date. Now pick the movie you watch over and over, the movie from which you can recite every line, your go-to home-on-a-Saturday-night-and-I-don’t-care movie. Which one is actually your favorite movie?
For me, the first answer would be something like “Old School” or “Shawshank Redemption.” Something that made me fit in. But what I'd really be thinking was “Because I Said So,” a flop of a rom-com starring none other than Diane Keaton, whose daughter, played by Mandy Moore, overhears her having an orgasm. The dad from “Seventh Heaven” is in this movie. It's that bad. There's a reason I don't usually share this publicly. And to be honest, I had to go to my Facebook profile to remember what my favorite socially acceptable movies were.
For some of us, the two movies we'd choose may be the same. But for most of us — myself included — they're different. So what is it about sharing something publicly that's different than when it's between me and my close friends? Sharing information between two people used to be about giving a part of yourself away. Now, I'm wondering if it's about crafting a persona.
Growing up, going on sleepovers and playing on the playground, there was this idea of reciprocity. A social contract in sharing. You tell me your secret, and I'll tell you mine. That's all different in 2013 because we have an audience. Sharing used to be an exchange; now it's a declaration.
The internet is supposed to be a place where everyone can be themselves and find like-minded people. But what we're seeing right now is a faux intimacy. We think we know people so much better because of the internet, and the information it puts at our fingertips, but we really know them less. We know only what they put out there about themselves. In 2013, you are what you share.
It takes courage to be genuine. And it takes real courage to be genuine on the internet, where everyone is a critic, a cynic, and a comedian. So if you are what you share, do you have the courage to be real?
This matters. There’s something at stake here. It’s easy not to know people, and to not be known by people on the internet. Think about the push for using real names as opposed to anonymous avatars on social networks. It used to be that you would come home from work, sign onto message boards, and be someone else — escape. Now, you have to be yourself everywhere.
Reddit is one of the only places left to be someone else and hide behind a different persona. It's probably the best community on the internet. It's where people talk openly about what matters most to them and aren't afraid of the consequences or of how they'll be perceived. All hell breaks loose when we find out who people like ViolentAcrez really are. Everything changes when you feel like your personal identity is at stake. We refuse to put our real names on things that matter.
But here's why we should: The payoff is so worth it. I've met best friends, mentors, heroes, and future colleagues on social networks like Twitter, where I try to be 100% myself — insecurities and all. And believe me, this is hard. It can blow up in your face. I recently read a fantastic cover story in New York about why high school is the worst place to put a bunch of nervous, insecure, developing young adults. I totally agreed because I hated high school. It just wasn't my place. Feeling bold and wanting to share something important to me, I tweeted, “Were you miserable in high school like I was? Reading this was surprisingly cathartic for me. Why we never leave it.”
The response I got put me right back in high school. Instead of a thoughtful discussion, I felt like I was pushed back against a locker being made fun of all over again. I’m used to really engaging with people on Twitter, so I knew it meant something when this didn't spark any talk by others who hated high school. Then I realized that this was something people didn’t want to associate themselves with because of how it made them look. I was hoping for a kind, comforting response, and I didn't get one. That's OK. I was being genuine, and I don't regret it. Trust me, the good of being open and honest about who we are will far outweigh the bad.
So think about where you can be more real. How can we get rid of this faux intimacy, find ways to express our vulnerabilities, and put ourselves out there even when our names are attached?
This was originally presented as a talk at Metaphwoar at SXSW 2013, sponsored by Netted by the Webbys.