Tuesday, March 8, 2011

We Are Unique -- Just Like Everyone Else

Facebook and other, lesser utilized social networks have changed our lives.  Generally speaking, our mothers and grandmothers know more about us than any previous generation of 20- and 30-somethings, and not always for the better.  As a generation, and prior to the proliferation of tools like Facebook, we were unique among the halls of those who came before us:  independent, mobile, moderately connected, tech-savvy.  We were the first generation to, en-mass, prefer spending our Saturdays in front of Nintendo over riding our bikes.  Or in the language of Tyler Durden, we are a generation of men raised by our mothers.

But that's all changed.  While the advent of second generation social networks (I think I just coined a new moniker) didn't force us to be less apt to be in touch with our emotions (Thanks, Mom), it certainly drove us to publicize a more socially acceptable version of ourselves.  This seemingly relevant form of self-censorship transcends our generational gaps as we post our updates and tweets to a broad audience generally composed of people with whom we haven't engaged in a face-to-face conversation in years or decades.  And everyone does it, well, maybe everyone.

You know what I'm talking about.  Case in point:  I've been a Facebook user since 2006.  All reasonable estimates of my verbal speech number my usage of the word "Fuck" are somewhere in the millions.  In the past five years, do you know how many times I've said "fuck" on Facebook?  Once.  It wasn't part of a rant or an open letter to anyone in particular, but I made sure it was buried in a string of very well strung comments in reply to, well, something of little-to-no consequence.  The important thing, though, is that I tone it down for the 367 people who I call "friends" on Facebook.  And for good reason:  those people include my elementary school friends, my landlord, and yes, my mother.  Not that my Mom hasn't heard me say "fuck," but something tells me Grandma would be a little less embracing of my public use of the Queen Mother of all words.

To me, this represents something of a phenomenon.  Do we all put up the same walls on Facebook that we surround ourselves with in business meetings?  And I'm not talking about the sitting-around-the-fighter-squadron-with-a-dip-in-our-mouths kind of business meetings.  I'm talking about the suit-and-tie type of meetings.  Do we wear a mask to prove something to our virtual network?  And if so, why?

The answers aren't as black and white as one may think, but my personal answer is a resounding yes. Do I get pissed when someone tags a picture of me without my wits the night before for all to see?  You bet.  Do I think of all the colleagues and subordinates who will see through my smiles and neatly tied ties at work but who are also my Facebook friends?  You bet.  And do I (politely) untag myself from these photos? Yep -- almost every time.  But why?  If the "real" me has a life outside of work, or does things that Mom wouldn't approve of, who cares?

Today's younger generation doesn't seem to wear the same filter. Don't agree?  Take one look at lamebook.com and tell me if you've changed your mind.  Maybe it's time to put down the filter.  Regardless of "Why?" maybe we should all just be the you's and me's we are in everyday life.  Maybe we should be okay with saying "fuck" in front of Mom.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a status update to make.