I recently had a client suggest that I write a blog post about Facebook. It was a reasonable suggestion given that it so frequently comes up with my clients. I spent some time mulling over what I wanted to say. I thought about how some people share things on Facebook that they’d never share so openly in similar face-to-face situations. I mean, would you really get up in front of 75 or 120 or 338 friends and say some of the things you’ve said on Facebook?
Then I thought about the myriad of people that have risked their relationships by re-connecting with old flames, new flames, young flames…any kind of flame on Facebook. And it always started “innocently” and “took them by surprise.” But it really should have been no surprise because what really happened is the illusion of anonymity and distance made being flirty and fun seem like it was meaningless. Except our emotions don’t stop working just because words are being transmitted electronically.
I kept thinking and just couldn’t figure out exactly what it was that I wanted to say. Oh, there are plenty of angles, but it just wouldn’t gel. Then I saw this TED Talk by Ze Frank. Ze Frank is a comedian that uses online tool to create collaborative comedy. In the talk he makes a point…he says, “On street corners everywhere, people are looking at their cell phones, and it’s easy to dismiss this as some sort of bad trend in human culture. But the truth is life is being lived there.” He’s right. Like it or not, a portion of many people’s lives happen electronically – Text, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, SecondLife, Chat Rooms…you get the idea.
I was struck when I heard him say this. Not because I was surprised. I’ve had this discussion about using electronic communication as a means of interpersonal interaction for years. I believe it is here to stay. I was struck when he said “life is being lived.” He was right. This isn’t just communication, it is living life. It made me wonder – why are people so willing to live their lives differently electronically? Why don’t they show the same integrity that they do in person?
I’m not sure most of us think about what we do online as “living life.” But it is. And I think it is important that we think about it that way. Why? Because it is much easier to excuse our behavior or to not even really think about our behavior if it isn’t “real life.” We can just tell ourselves – hey, that was just online.
For example, I think one thing that gets brushed over when we connect electronically is other people’s reactions. We don’t get that immediate feedback of another person’s emotional response. It is easier to say harsh or inappropriate things when we don’t see a look of hurt or anger or shock on another person’s face. But it doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Just because you can’t see the reaction of the other person, just because you may be separated by distance or time, they will still have it.
Equally important is the fact that just because you are using a keyboard and a mouse it doesn’t mean that you aren’t putting your reputation on the line. The words that come across in text or email or as a post still reflect on you. So make sure they reflect you well. Use kindness. Respect boundaries – others and yours. Think about how many people may see what you have to say. Be smart. Take care of yourself. Realize you are living life and live your online life with integrity.