Sometime in the last couple of years Facebook took some kind of giant leap from being a side project that people used to stalk crushes, to being the primary source of news and connection for all of us. (Congrats, Mark Zuckerberg.) Several times over the past year my Facebook newsfeed has exploded with an even greater abundance of opinions than usual—people posting pros or cons about the news, decisions, and conflict that has gripped our nation this year.
Each time one of these above-average newsworthy events has happened, I’ve found myself incredibly conflicted. My first thought is a panicked: I must post my opinion and I must post it NOW. There is something in my subconscious that becomes anxious when I see all of the opinions thrown out there, and mine not among them. I feel compelled to toss my voice into the mix.
My second reaction is one of withdrawal. It’s far too messy to get involved, and there is so much conflict and misunderstanding online that it seems better to withhold my own opinion. So each time, I have held off. But then, like clockwork, the first voice sneaks back in and whispers: So are you ashamed of your opinion, then?
And there it is: the great Facebook lie. Really, it’s the great internet lie. Somehow, we’ve landed on this idea that if we aren’t comfortable sharing our opinion in a status, we’re ashamed or afraid. You can see it everywhere—in Twitter debates, and Facebook posts, and too-honest blogs. In YouTubers who make their living by telling all their secrets. And their friends’ secrets.
The hot button issues of the past year have gotten me thinking about this phenomenon quite a lot; thinking about how much the advent of Facebook as a forum to comment on the world has turned into some kind of strange self-bullying. Bullying ourselves into feeling compelled to share thoughts that are complex and nuanced. Bullying us into taking topics that should be week-long conversations and 200 page books, and instead collapsing them into 200 characters. Bullying us into being face to face with every opinion on every topic from every friend all at the same time.
It’s so good to have opinions, and to share them, and to engage in conflict with people who have different opinions. But it’s so bad to hide behind our keyboards and let Facebook do all the talking. My friends and I almost never talk about topics of conflict in person. If you want to know where someone stands, you have to watch their newsfeed. How is that possibly better? I have thoughts about things that I would need several hours to explain, and I would need eye contact and inflection and forgiveness. And yet instead of engaging in this kind of dialogue, I’m sitting at my computer feeling pressure to type up a status.
So I’m giving myself permission to say no to the realm of Facebook. I’m giving myself permission to have an opinion and not share it with the world, because maybe it’s not ready to be shared, or maybe it’s better shared in person. People used to have opinions about their own family and their own cities, and far off in a corner of their minds about the country as a whole. The connectedness of our world makes it possible for me to worry about what’s happening in Japan, or Mexico. That’s not a bad thing, but I think we need to acknowledge the overwhelming nature of the amount of information and anxiety we’re all accountable for now, and give ourselves permission to step back.
We are connected; we are informed. We have the ability to share our opinions freely. We must employ the responsibility to do so wisely.
Open and Unafraid
David O. Taylor