Earlier today my wife and I were speaking about social media. It can be marvelous and miserable. We both dabble in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc to varying degrees. But it is REALLY easy to be carried by the stream of pop culture and join in without thinking. So, we talk about social media. We talk about how it can be both amazing and horrible. We try to learn from our own failures (which are many) and even from the missteps of others. Sometimes when you see several people (or whole crowds) making the same mistake all at once, it appears as a pattern. A kind of constellation of immaturity and bad behavior.
It is almost as if the kinds of stupid decisions that people wanted to keep private in the past, have now become a staple on social media.
The constellation we talked about this morning is the tendency of some people to parade their bad decisions on social media. Sometimes it feels like I am watching someone get another “together forever” tattoo with the name of their new lover, written just beneath the one they ditched last month. It is almost as if the kinds of stupid decisions that people wanted to keep private in the past, have now become a staple on social media. The grand spectacle of folly that was once reserved for gossip rags and the Larry Springer show is now available to all of us. And not just as spectators, we can be on stage, or on the cover. But there is no one to sue for libel, because we wrote it. And, oh yeah, it’s true..
Many of the things I am now able to learn (forced to endure?) about my Facebook friends would have only been available to me in the past if someone had been trying to destroy their reputation through gossip. I would really like to mind my own business, but you won’t let me! It’s not that I want people to lie, I just feel really uncomfortable when people gossip about themselves.
I would really like to mind my own business, but you won’t let me!
And sadly much of this adolescent flaunting is presented with a measure of boldness. “This is who I am, IF YOU DON’T LIKE MY BAD DECISIONS, YOU ARE THE ONE WITH THE PROBLEM.” And I do end up with a problem, Facebook only has a “like” button. I could speak up and be perceived as judgmental (a risk I am willing to take because I love my friends), or stay quiet while you document your own personal episode of Jackass for the world to see.
Regret is a powerful experience, tasted by all at some point. And one of the things that makes regret more damaging is publicity. It is one thing to trip and fall. It is another thing to trip and fall on camera and then to see our private moment of shame become a viral experience. It is one thing to be laughed at by a few friends and strangers, it is much harder to endure the scorn of millions. And sadly, this level of regret is more potent when there is a permanent record. What will it be like when the posts you wrote last year, the ones that already embarrass you, can be resurrected to go viral again in 2035. And you think political campaigns are nasty now? It has been said that taking information off the internet is like taking pee out of a pool. Impossible.
So here is my advise:
1. Don’t give into the temptation to make a permanent, public record of every mistake and bad decision that you make. One day you will want people to “forgive and forget.” Don’t make this any harder than it already is.
2. If something might really embarrass you if it ended up on film, then don’t just think twice about posting it on social media, think twice about doing it. Some embarrassing things are perfectly innocent, and we need to learn to laugh at ourselves. Other embarrassing things can hurt us and other people. And the only thing worse than driving toward a cliff, is driving toward it confidently with your foot on the acclerator.
3. Don’t be upset when friends and people that love you (especially older ones) have the courage to tell you that you are making bad choices. There is a strong possibility you will soon agree with them. And you may need their help to clean up the mess.