Sunday 3 October 2010

Illusions of transparency

In this digital world, it is very easy to give the illusion of complete transparency. You can chat on Twitter, post your holiday pics and general life pics on Flickr, if you're not careful you can broadcast every move through Facebook whether you like it or not, and you can tell people what music you listen to and what you like to watch via Last FM and YouTube.

All that information might make you think that if you looked hard enough you could find out everything about me.

You probably could. You'd need one key piece of information that you don't have because I have been very careful to keep my work life and the things which are not important, separate from the things which are, but if you didn't know that, you would think that I had laid my soul bare on the web.

I have not. I know that I have not because people reply to some of my tweets with such leftfield comments or assumptions that I splurt coffee everywhere in shock that someone could ever think such a thing of me. If people really knew me, then they'd never make that assumption at all. But here in the digital world, it's easy to think you do know someone, easy to think you have a working relationship or friendship, when all you have is shifting sand.

There are still some people for whom this is the case. I am one of them. I've met some wonderful people who I have chatted solely to using the internet prior to meeting them. The friendships have lasted years and still prevail, despite hundreds of miles seperating us on a weekly basis. Despite a suspicion of being odd for warming to someone before actually meeting them, I do not think I am in the minority any longer. I meet people I have been chatting to on the web who are not in any way 'fluffy' and there is an instant comfortableness, months worth of chat revolving around common interests providing a cushion against the usual initial unease of edging around new people met, trying to find common ground, trying to survive the small talk that I am so bad at it's not even funny. I think some of those will become something slightly more than acquintances and some of those will become firm friends. Some I might have become friends with if we'd never chatted online first, some perhaps not.

But it is easy to think that you know everything about someone. Easy to intentionally portray that you are being completely open about everything. But it is also easy to keep some sides of your life entirely private, locked off and off limits to all but those who know you the very best. We are all, perhaps, coming to terms with a new openess and a new way of working and relating to each other which seems to require a certain level of openess from us, but actually only requires us to be what we always should have aspired to be.

To be human.

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