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The ethics of an online life

Posted in Life & Love

dog on ladder“I have gotten off Facebook. I just can’t stand how everybody is happy all the time” a young friend in her 30s declares. “They are all getting married, having babies and doing fun things” she carries on.

“But you know that is less than half the story” I feel compelled to point out.

I am still not sure how I feel about Facebook but I get her point. I unfriended a couple of people whose sole postings involved restaurants, vacations and what they ate. More than ever, being able to have an online persona allows us to construct a glamorous life of, not exactly lies, but half-truths that make up a tiny little sliver of the whole pie.

A few months ago, on an extremely successful lifestyle blog I follow, the author confessed to having gone through a bout of postpartum depression a few years back. Her stylish blog is all about cute children, beautifully curated apartments, pretty everyday food, fashionable clothes and the like. The overall mood, even when tackling subjects like work or health, is happy. And why shouldn’t it be? Who wants to read about depression, disease and misery? Well, plenty actually, but that is another story.

If you buy a fashion magazine, your connection to the stories is not personal. You might admire Grace Coddington’s styling but don’t really know what she does with her spare time or what she thinks about global warming. When I read a story in a newspaper, I connect with the story, not the journalist. But blogging has blurred the lines: bloggers can be virtual acquaintances, if not friends, and should they have a responsibility to disclose that all the free clothes and beauty products come with a set of problems? That there is another side to the coin of stylish living rooms and perfectly executed DIY projects?

A few years ago, a troll left a comment on a blog post of mine that read “I hope you die of AIDS”. The venom of it left me terrified. Why would someone who had never met me take the time to write something so vicious? I deleted it and that was the end of it but, with so many women in the media shamed and criticized and insulted by faceless humans hiding behind monikers and ip addresses, being cautious and not revealing the whole truth is the smart thing to do.

ladder bookcaseThe personal details make us feel more connected and that is the difference between reading a blog post and Marie Claire but they also make us more vulnerable, even if it’s just a single troll in Lithuania who will never land on your site again.

Because I like the connection I feel with certain bloggers I follow, whenever I write, I try to be me. Always. An honest version of me, even if not the entire version. I certainly don’t glamorize myself but I have wondered whether I tend to put my best foot forward. I suppose it’s human to do so. But what I have come to understand is that, whenever we read, be it a novel, an article, a blog post, we tend to superimpose our views and our perceptions on the words. Different people see different things within the same material. We relate to some aspects and that is what we hold on to and mold our impressions of the writer on.

And for every FB post on Polynesian vacation, gorgeous baby and effortless feast, we also know there are tears, burnt dinners and nights slogged on the couch. Who are we trying to fool?

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17 Comments

  1. I was talking to a friend about something similar the other day. I feel like blogs tend to give a better idea of someone’s life compared to sites like FB, Instagram, Twitter, etc, which are limited to “snapshots” and hence lack depth.

    The flip side of posting unglamorous things on FB is that, despite helping to give a more balanced view, it might still come across as attention-seeking. …or maybe that’s just the way my generation thinks. I also have friends who complain about certain “friends” posting inspirational quotes etc too frequently

    May 25, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Inspirational quotes on FB! I used to love them – now I just skim over…

      May 27, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Absolutely brilliant! Will have to repost it! Thank you.

      May 25, 2016
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  2. I was going to mention this a couple of days ago, when you wrote about “Morning Pages”, but I felt it was off-topic. It fits in with this post, though. Well, kinda.

    I was once a great fan of the Artist’s Way (and some of the follow-up books), in which the author repeatedly railed against the stereotype of artists as unstable, crazy people who can’t deal with life. When I came across a news item about said author having been picked up in Regent’s Park, disoriented and in a psychotic state, I must confess, I felt a bit betrayed.

    I do realise that this is unfair as well as despicably unkind, mental health problems can strike just about anyone, it’s not the person’s fault, and the only reaction should be compassion. And yet – what is to be done about a clear conflict between the persona you betray publicly and who you really are? Especially in the self-help-book/blog arena? Is it OK to sweep your problems under the carpet when they are directly relevant to what you are putting out there to “inspire” people to become their “authentic selves”? Be as I say, but not as I am?

    May 24, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Oh wow! I knew Julia Cameron had fought alcoholism (I think she talks about it in The Artist’s Way) but I had no idea of the follow-up. I wonder if it is easier to dispense advice than to take it. I have a friend who is a wonderful yoga teacher. She teaches the most inspired classes, will debate the finer points of Buddhism and knows every meditation technique under the sun – yet, she is absolutely unable to apply any of it to her crazy life. At least she will admit it.

      May 25, 2016
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  3. The anonymity of the Internet has spawned a whole world of knuckle dragging cretins that (hopefully) would NEVER say the kind of things they say online directly to a person’s face. It makes me sad that civility and decency is all too often a foreign concept in this day and age. Sure I get zits, have bad hair days and wrinkles and love to focus on positive things in a negative based world. But staying real is the only way to get through that in tact I believe. Well that and keeping ALL the nonsense on FB at arm’s length. Good chocolate and wine also seem to help keep me grounded with reality. 😉

    May 24, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      It’s become a world without filters, there is no need to stop and think before we open our mouths, especially if we are untraceable. Good chocolate and a good cocktail do help. Absolutely agree.

      May 25, 2016
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  4. I think it is human nature for most of us to not want to share our sadness and failures but rather our joys and accomplishments.

    May 24, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      It is certainly so although I find that, at times, it skews too much towards Instagram opportunities rather than real life.

      May 25, 2016
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  5. Winston moreton
    Winston moreton

    As they like to say on the Good Wife ‘ I am’
    Picture the investgator Jason with a smile

    May 24, 2016
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  6. My son expressed those thoughts a few years ago. He was going through a divorce. When people would tell him he needed to get on FB, his refusal was solely because he couldn’t deal with people posting about all the fun things they were doing, while he had no home, no money, etc. Good post.

    May 23, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Nothing worse, when you are depressed, than to look at other people’s happiness, as fake as it might be.

      May 24, 2016
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      • Oh dear. And there I’ve been trying to cheer you up with interesting posts.

        May 24, 2016
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  7. Winston Moreton
    Winston Moreton

    Old style personal letters (written by the subject) are not a reliable source of information for biographers either. The need to dissemble is hard wired

    May 23, 2016
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    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Are you saying I am an ureliable narrator?

      May 24, 2016
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      • The minute something stops happening and becomes remembered – it changes. I see plenty of sadness and disappointment on Facebook. Maybe the 30year old should get some older friends – give me her name and I will friend her. Then she can learn about menopause and gin.

        May 24, 2016
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