Monday, 24 June 2013

To Share or Not to Share - Liz Kessler

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about sharing recently. How we do it, where we do it, who we do it with, and why?

Thanks to the technology that exists today, particularly the internet, we live in times where we could in theory share pretty much anything with practically anyone in the world.

So how do we work out where to draw the line?

Obviously, we each have a different reply to this. My dad, for example, doesn’t really like it when I share what he considers to be overly personal Facebook posts (that are only seen by my friends). Equally, I don’t really like it when he shares what I consider to be overly personal photographs of other people (that are only seen by people who visit the exhibition that the photos are part of). Somewhere along the way, we have each made our own rules about what we feel is and isn’t acceptable to share. As has everyone else in this modern world.

Luckily, my dad and I have found that the occasional discussion over these differences of opinions has never done our relationship any harm! But it’s not always as easy as that. The very nature of ‘sharing’ is that it’s not something we keep to ourselves – and so, ‘our’ rules about it will constantly bump up against other people’s.

In recent weeks, I have come across this issue numerous times, in numerous different guises. Authors arguing over what some consider to be excessive levels of self-promotion. Heated debates about whether moaning about toothache on twitter is strictly necessary. Discussions about people not getting jobs after their potential new boss found what they believed to be unacceptable photos online.

It’s a minefield. It’s worse than a minefield. Most of us don’t have to walk across minefields to get anywhere, but most of us do use – sometimes depend on – these sites in our daily lives.

So what do we do? ‘Unfriend’ ‘Unfollow’ and ‘Hide’ those who post things we don’t like, and risk losing touch with people we are otherwise fond of? Challenge them on what they share, and risk falling out over something so trivial we probably won’t remember it in a year’s time?

Or perhaps work extra hard within ourselves to understand, accept and live alongside everyone’s different definitions of what is an appropriate level of sharing. Make our lines more bendy so they can accommodate each other’s more comfortably.

Think of the world today as a tube train, where it used to be a horse and carriage. In the past, we would only have shared our journey with one or two fellow travellers. Now, we might be squeezed into a tightly packed chunk of metal with a hundred others. We’re all going somewhere. We each have our own journey. But for those few moments, we have to share it with other people. So we do what we can to make it more comfortable. Move our bags closer so someone can get past. Shuffle along so more people can get on. Stand up for the elderly couple. Possibly, even – shock horror – smile at the stranger sitting across the aisle. We adapt, because we know that our journey means sharing a few minutes with these people and, more often than not, we don’t hold that against them.

The point is, our world enables us to reach more people, and whilst some of the time, this might be hard, mostly it offers opportunities.

Opportunities to read articles that stretch our minds; to congratulate family members on their achievements; to wish friends happy birthday even if they live on the other side of the world. And a million other things, besides. Sharing can in fact be the most amazing thing a human being can do. It connects us, brings us closer and allows us to relate more deeply to our fellow travellers.

And I don’t think it’s too much of a coincidence that this issue is so prevalent amongst writers. After all, what are books but the ultimate sharing of the truths we carry deep inside us? No wonder we are so often the ones who get accused of ‘over-sharing’. It’s what we do for our day jobs. In many cases, it’s what we live and breathe.

I don’t really have a perfect solution for how to keep everyone happy on this issue. Perhaps we never will. But in the meantime, how about we simply forgive each other the occasional difference of opinion on the matter? Try to engage fully with the person doing the sharing, rather than stand back and judge them for doing so. 

Let’s make our lines more flexible. And while we're at it, let’s go ahead and smile at the stranger on the tube. It’ll make the journey much more pleasant – for us as well as them.

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Sue Purkiss said...

Thoughtful and interesting post - I've just joined Twitter, so am very aware that what you share there is something I have to negotiate. And I'm sometimes doubtful about the things we share on Facebook - but I do love it that it puts me in touch with old friends and new friends, and reminds me about birthdays! As for speaking to people in the tube - I lived in London for a little while in the 70s, and nobody ever, ever spoke to each other. In fact I remember a man having real problems negotiating an escalator, and everyone just turned away: wouldn't look at him. But now, I find people do exchange smiles sometimes - even a few words. They seem readier to engage. That may be something to do with how I've changed, rather than the times and social networking - but I do wonder. It's an entirely unscientific observation, but I do have the impression that people are more open and friendly than they used to be.

JO said...

It's an interesting one, isn't it. I'm very aware of the 'public face' that emerges on twitter and facebook; as a writer I know I need to be 'out there' but that doesn't mean I think anyone cares what I eat for breakfast.

But there are also many - writers and non-writers - who struggle with mental health issues and for whom disclosures to faceless 'others', about issues what those others might feel trivial or too personal, is part of the illness and possibly better than medicating themselves into a stupor.

So I try to remember than there is a real person with his or her own challenges behind those posts, just as there is behind mine. (But that doesn't mean I read them.)

Jo McIntosh said...

I agree that everyone has different ideas about what is appropriate to share with the world and that is okay, you can choose whether you read them or not!

Pippa Goodhart said...

Liz, you are always so wise!

Anonymous said...

An interesting and thought-provoking post. A point you didn't cover though, Liz, was how much other writers (including this one!) have appreciated and benefited from you and other writers sharing some of the ups and down of your writing lives. It is heartening to know that even successful writers come up against some of the same challenges as those of us at the start of our writing careers. Very often something you have shared online has helped me put things into perspective or spurred me to do things differently or encouraged me to keep going. So please don't stop sharing!

Liz Kessler said...

Thanks for the nice comments. Carol, thank you for yours especially. Your comment absolutely warmed my heart. I'm often in doubt about whether to write posts that are quite so personal, and your comment helped me feel that it's the right thing to do! Thank you. xx