Friday, August 31, 2012

Today's Must-Have Accessory: The Comment Box

"Life cannot be edited." I heard that at a recently attended performance of Chaplin, on Broadway at the Barrymore Theatre, and it struck a chord. Words are spoken. Moments happen. Once they're out there they can never be taken back. Apologies can be made. Mea Culpa's confessed. Lines can be struck. But you will never be able to unknow what you now know.

So here we are in 2012, status updating, liking, tweeting, blogging, essentially living our lives on display. We know that people can see the things we are posting and liking. Isn’t that why we do it? Aren’t we, in some cases, seeking validation of some sort? Aren’t we inviting response? Why then should we feel so provoked when someone calls us on our social media antics? Flummoxed at the prospect that anyone actually saw what we did or cared enough about it to be offended.

Freedom of expression goes both ways. What one person likes may offend another. However, the First Amendment gives each of us the right to express ourselves and Facebook and Twitter make that expression easier than ever.

Once we put it out there it’s no longer ours alone. It belongs to everyone who can see it. What they choose to do with it is out of our control. We have to know that. We should know that.

When our beliefs are shared openly on social media and then called into question or shared more publicly than we would like what are we to do? Hide from or own what we believe in? Are our beliefs easier to own in the shadows of privacy than in the light of the public domain?

My beliefs are constantly in public view through my writing. They are constantly sent into cyberspace where they will live an eternity as a reference to who I am, or was at that moment, and what I believe in, how I feel/felt. 

I realize I’m in control of my persona. I can write myself into the hero position of any topic of my choosing. I can be the victim. I can be the comic relief. What I’ve been told I do is write very honestly. That is a compliment of the highest order. I strive to write from an honest place. If I’m telling a story about my life I don’t leave out the details even if they make me look selfish, stupid, frustrated, funny, or ridiculous. I want the reader to identify with me as a real person, an honest person who will show the truth of himself even when it isn’t pretty.

When I choose a topic such as bullying or religion or homosexuality I approach it with the utmost desire to get my point across. Sometimes I have to ask question within the piece because I don’t know the answers. I’m honest about it. I weave moments of my life into these pieces. To me, sharing my own experiences on the subject puts a face on the situation. I try to humanize the situation. It makes it real. 

We have to be prepared for the consequences of our actions when it comes to the ease at which we can do things on social media. We want to be true to ourselves and try to friend up with like minded people, but what happens when the news feed fills with things we don’t like and we learn things we didn’t want to know? Do we: ignore? get angry? lash out? 

Don’t we have to own our beliefs, our comments, our likes, our photo scenarios? If I’m going to put it out in the world for all of my social media friends and acquaintances to see then I have to be prepared to defend my choices. A few weeks ago after the first preview of Into The Woods playing at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, a tweet by an actress who was seen on Broadway earlier this year caused quite a stir. She stated her opinion on the performance she had just seen. It did not paint a pretty picture of the show. She was immediately crucified by others in the business for not supporting the community. She was criticized for bad mouthing the quality of the production after the first public preview. She removed the tweet. Deleted. Should she have done so? It was her thought at the moment. She sent it out into cyberland. She was called on it and deleted it to make it all go away. Mea Culpa. Mea Culpa. Maybe she should have been smarter about what she was tweeting. Maybe she tweeted what she tweeted to incite discussion. I question what kind of response she thought she would get? I would bet money that she didn’t expect the backlash. I also question why what she had to say mattered so much to so many. 

Facebook and Twitter are outlets that allow people to do and say whatever they feel. Sometimes my Facebook news feed in nothing more than word vomit. I’m not trying to bite the hand that feeds my blog readership. Believe me. I deactivated my Facebook account for six days and in that time published a blog entry that found no audience because the bulk of it comes from Facebook. I’m now dependent on it. Almost like it’s a drug. I need it even though I don’t want it.

Is it really calling someone out about their beliefs if they’ve posted, liked, or tweeted the information already. Isn’t their belief already out in the world? Is anger really the choice when someone: points it out? asks you about it? makes you defend it? Does the anger come from embarrassment? In today’s world of immediate response nothing gets swept under the rug, hidden for weeks, only to be discovered when the moment is past its prime. In today’s anyone-can-say-what-they-like world, the meat doesn’t have time to spoil because people seem to either like it or hate it before it reaches the table.

When are we going to learn that if we’re going to be honest via social media we have to be prepared for the feedback? It’s not as simple as liking something and thinking no one is going to see it. It’s not as simple as status updating about a political view or religious position and thinking that someone who opposes won’t challenge. It’s not as simple as writing about what you believe and thinking someone won’t call your beliefs into question. We’re human, we disagree, and now it’s easier than ever to tell everyone how you feel. Who could possibly get their feelings hurt? We think we can hide behind the words and actions because there is no human interaction. Wrong. 

Look, I don’t like to be called out on my beliefs, thoughts, likes either. I don’t like confrontation. I am also aware that I can’t hide behind my computer screen. I’m even more aware that I may be contributing to someone else’s news feed word vomit. Am I prepared to defend my writing? Am I prepared to compromise if need be? That is a gray area. I don’t live well in the gray area. I like the rules of black and white, but there are no set rules. I do know that I have to take responsibility for all the moments in my life. Staying true to myself is the goal. My freedom of speech is the same freedom of speech that everyone else has. I know that my writing can sometimes be provocative. I know that I can push buttons. My dad used to call me an instigator. Maybe I am. I also know that pushing those buttons means that I’m giving people the opportunity to push back on mine. Call-and-response in written expression instead of vocal. Response is more than a religious ritual; it’s communal participation.

There are no locked doors in which to hide behind on the Internet. Social media is connecting, updating, and publishing constantly. You can’t turn out the lights. There is no darkness. If you don’t want it out there keep it to yourself because once it’s out there anyone can ask you why. 

We have to be ready for the repercussions that social media readily gives everyone the chance to bestow upon us. The Facebook and Twitter communities are not going away so as long as we keep traveling down the freedom-of-speech trail and doing and saying whatever we want, we sure as hell better be ready.

Gird your loins, prepare your statements, ready your game face.