About Me

 

 The greatest thing we can do is to show up for our lives and not be ashamed.

 -Anne Lamott

 

I'm a creature of the word, learning to tell my honest story.

I offer it here because telling stories is the road back home.

Motherhood is not a biological designation
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Sunday
Jan062013

Context Collapse: a rant about social media

Those who tell the stories rule the world.

-Plato

I know the pleasures and perils of social networking have been discussed ad nauseum, but I guess I still want to add my two little cents to the discussion...

I read an article in Elle magazine the other day which contained this quotation: "We're so used to the performance aspect of experience our digital culture fosters, so used to exhibiting our every gasp for others via tweets, pinning, etc., that we squirm under the burden of intimacy, the way it casts us back on ourselves and our own feelings without the mediation of an audience." Daphne Merkin from  "We're all Helmut Newton Now"

It got me thinking: if I begin to live my life with Facebook or Twitter in mind-documenting, and thereby intentionally creating, "postable" moments- in order to get comments from my imaginary audience, will this bleed over into every aspect of my life?

Am I training myself to live for my audience's approval? And thereby overvaluing the parts of my life that are newsworthy (the snapshots and soundbites), and undervaluing the "unpostable" moments- the day to day mundane?

Doesn't intimacy in relationship happen through consistency? Through sharing-yes, the big stuff, but more than that, the little bits of everyday life?

And doesn't my awareness of my own story-the narrative throughline of my life-come through a willingness to share the plodding journey, not just the sprints ahead or behind on the path?

 

I thought about this as I got dressed for church on Sunday and put on a pair of Cole Haan spectator shoes I picked up at a thrift store for ten bucks. I wore the shoes because I don't have much chance to get dressed up, and because I love the shoes, but I also wore the shoes hoping that someone might notice and comment.

And if they comment, do I fill them in on the narrative behind the shoes?

How cheap they were even though they are name brand?

How hard it was to thrift shop with all four of my kids?

How I had Phoenix strapped in the Ergo which meant I could barely bend over to put on a shoe; Kyrie in the cart trying to pull shoes off the rack; the boys trying on roller skates and skating up and down the aisle pissing women off?

How I ended up ordering my two boys to sit on the floor outside the crappy dressing room and read books while I wedged the cart inside the dressing room which meant I couldn't close the door all the way, and then put Kyrie in the back of the cart and ordered her to sit down and Phoenix in the baby seat of the cart so that I could try on clothes as well as shoes? And how by the end of it, two men had seen me half undressed because the dressing room was really just a curtained off corner of the thrift shop next to the book rack, and how my deoderant stopped working because the whole experience was so dang stressful that I sweated through my shirt? 

No.  I say thanks, and feel good about my cool shoes. 

 

But I believe we are created for story.

Which means maybe the person who comments on my shoes fills in the blanks of my shoe snapshot with their own version of the story: "wow, she has four kids and still puts on name brand heels to go to church. She is way more put together than I am. I bet she puts together a fashionable outfit everyday."  

Or maybe, "wow, she has four kids and spends her money on name brand shoes. How selfish is that. She cares way too much what people think of her. And she doesn't even have a job. I bet her husband gets annoyed at the way she spends money..."


If we are given pieces of the story, we will fill in the blanks with the rest of the imagined details.

 

This is why I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook.

I see the benefits of being in touch with people from the past, people far away, people we care about but don't have the time to nurture deep relationships with (although I also think Facebook creates a weird lack of respect for life seasons; in the past, when you moved, you had to move on from most relationships, and although this was painful, it was also appropriate as it's totally unrealistic to carry everyone you've ever known with you throughout your life. Who can truly keep up with that many people well?  Relationships become a case of many shallow instead of a few deep, with a pervasive sense of guilt for not being able to maintain ALL relationships at ALL times).

I admit, I like being able to dip down into peoples' lives when I choose, catch a glimpse of their goings-on, comment, and move on.  I totally enjoy seeing pictures of my little nephew, or my friend who moved to Australia, or having a way to converse with a college professor. I am so blessed by every single person who takes the time to comment, publicly or privately, on my blog, and how else would people read my blog if I didn't post it on Facebook?

I especially saw the benefits of Facebook in the wake of the fire. There is no way we would have received the abundant outpouring of support without a tool like Facebook to connect people to our need, and to our story.  

And yet.

 

Our primal connection to story can be dangerous when it comes to interactions like Facebook.  

For example, let's say a woman posts something like: So happy. My husband brought me breakfast in bed this morning and my favorite Starbucks coffee!

I, as witness to this story soundbite, fill in the rest of the blanks: her husband is so loving. They have such a great relationship. I bet he does things like that for her all the time...

 

Very quickly, my imagination, working overtime to write the rest of her story, begins to reflect on my own story: "when was the last time my husband brought me breakfast in bed?  Does he know what my favorite Starbucks drink is?  Do we do romantic things together?" And on and on.

In maybe ten seconds, I have filled in the blanks of my friend's story in the best possible light, while throwing my own story into darkest shadows. 

And yet, what do I really know about my friend's story?

I don't know how many times she has asked her husband to bring her breakfast in bed before he actually did.  I don't know if they are on the other side of a huge fight and this is a peace offering. I don't know if she just had a huge loss or a blow up at work or a fight with a friend- maybe she's mourning, and her husband's gesture is balm for a wound.  Maybe he does bring her breakfast in bed every week. Good for him!

Who knows?

 

I don't.

And yet, we are so created to tell stories, that we fill in the blanks of a sound bite with an entire narrative.

I guess I call this dangerous because it's narrative without context.

Facebook is context collapse, as my bestie calls it.

Sometimes I come away from five minutes on Facebook with an irritating feeling I can't pinpoint- because I've just dipped down into an image and soundbite overload, and instead of taking each little piece for what it is, I've unwittingly begun to fill in the blanks for all the images and soundbites, and then, because I struggle with comparison, I've held up my own life against these stories, and found it to come up wanting.

Do I have the discipline to enjoy the chance to take a sneak peak into friends' lives and be in the moment with their moment, without creating story, without comparing my own story against the one I created for them?

I don't know. I think it's fighting human nature.

Because not only are we created for story, we are created to be witnesses, and to long for witnesses to our lives.

I think about major rites of passage: the sweet sixteen, weddings, funerals, big anniversaries-why do we ask people to witness these events with us?

Why didn't Michael and I quietly go to a justice of the peace and exchange vows? Why did we invite 200+ people to our ceremony?  

Because it made what we were doing feel more real.

Each person there had been a part of our journey; we wanted to honor that; we wanted to hear their voices promising to keep walking the road with us; we wanted to celebrate the culmination of the long haul towards the altar with everyone who knew how long and how HAUL that road had been. 

 

Having a witness means our story matters.

I think this is why moving can be so dislocating- I lose my witnesses, and thus my life feel less valid.

Why does it matter if I rearrange the furniture in my new house if no one who knows me and my furniture and my penchant for design can see it and comment and care?

I move to a new place and I am suddenly a nameless, faceless being, disconnected from the network of people who asked me the questions or gave me the comments that helped me feel seen, and loved.  

 

It's like the old adage: if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?

Is this what I fear? 

That if I don't, not only document this event, but post it and have someone "hear its sound," then it never made a sound?

And if the life I live makes no sound, then do I? Do I matter? Does what I do matter? Does my story matter?

And if my story doesn't matter, then what's the point?

 

I am reminded that God says he sees everything that is done in secret- he is the witness to all our moments, and I find great comfort in that.  God is the validator of my worth and my story.

But we are also created to be this to each other.  

Can we find ways to tell not just our soundbites, but our stories? And can we witness each other's stories in a way that does not bring comparison, but brings validation and healing?

I can say that I've experienced the incredibly healing gift of sharing my story and having people care enough to witness it, to validate it, to do more than just comment- to share their own stories in return. It's a life-giving exchange, and I would wish it for every single person on this earth.

 

I fear that social media is mildly satisfying our desires while robbing us of the deep exchange of story and witness, and the long-term joy of daily walking the slow life journey together.

 

 

 

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