I have just started listening, on Audible, to Jeff Jarvis’s new book Public Parts. In it he explores the consequences of the increasingly public lives we live online. He acknowledges the challenges of living our lives more openly but, like me, focusses on the upsides rather than the downsides. There are more than enough people willing to scare us about the downside – if there is one. The biggest upside of openness for me is the potential to discover our true selves. To say what we think and have others respond directly to us without any middle men in between.
This is not as easy as it sounds. I remember as a kid struggling to disentangle how I felt about things from how I was meant to feel about them. I can remember being nostalgic for pre mass-media eras when you could just kiss a girl without wondering which film star was the best to adopt as a role model in such a frightening new endeavour. Thomas de Zengotita’s wonderful book Mediated explores the issues of finding our true selves and the challenges of disentangling our stories from the messages we are bombarded with from birth about how we should be in the world.
So what’s in it for us if we learn to be more open and to work out what we really think?
I have just finished reading Real Love by Greg Baer M.D. If you can get past the title and the slightly Mills and Boon cover I can thoroughly recommend it. The main idea in the book is that it is the absence of unconditional love that causes many, if not all, of our problems and unhappiness. We learn to accept conditional love from an early age. I will love you if you act the way I think you should act. I will love you if you love me. I will respond positively to you if you make me feel good etc. etc. We learn to trade conditional love and learn not to expose our true selves for fear of having this conditional love/approval withdrawn. Greg’s radical, but compelling, solution is to tell the truth about ourselves and keep doing it until we come across people who will unconditionally love us. Until we do so we find it hard do give others unconditional love and until we learn to do that we will be forever ill at ease and unhappy.
Going back to Public Parts. The openness Jeff discusses in his book is still unfamiliar, and uncomfortable, for many people. Especially in Britain we tend to keep our true selves hidden. “And a good thing too” I can hear many of you say. But our reactions to openness say more about us than the people we are reacting to. What are we so afraid of? We hide from others but we also hide from ourselves. We should get over worrying about who sees our indiscretions on Facebook or who gets to know what we are thinking through our blogs. We should get over our squeamishness about exposing our feelings and stop disapproving of those who do. Who knows what we might learn about ourselves and the world around us …