And there was no place safer than our diaries…those brightly covered notebooks, dotted in garish sparkles and fairy sketches. These diaries were the safest place to be 'ourselves'. And once we had divulged and poured out our hearts, we could lock it all away; with just one turn of that cumbersome silver heart-shaped locket our secret would disappear!
Whenever I felt lonely or melancholy as a teen, I would nestle deep under my bed-covers and pour out my heart onto the pages of my diary… scribbling indulgently as Hanson played lightly in the background! It was the perfect picture of pre-teen angst; completely absorbed in my own affairs with little concern for others or reality even for that matter!
My emotional wounds and daring dreams were all that mattered, and I would vomit them up onto the pages before taking up my prized key to lock them away!
And so that was the process for the 90s teen… our confessions and our desires and our greatest struggles began with a 'Dear diary' entry and they finished with a full stopâ€"not a POST button.
Welcome to Social Media
But things have indeed changed. And not solely for Generation Z either! No…social media has indeed changed the entire manner in which human beings from the Baby boomers to the Gen Y's comprehend, process and express their feelings, accomplishments, insecurities and struggles.
No longer do many people today seek confidentiality or quiet counsel for their latest problem or dilemma…instead they seek public validation and widespread concern first.
Instead of expressing their insecurities or struggles to a friend, many people have come to rely on social media as the ultimate outlet with which to verbalise and publicise their inner turmoils.
They have come to value the public sphere of social media over the private domain of reserved and confidential counsel.
For some people, this 'need' or 'desire' to share publicly stems from a place of insecurity and worthlessness. They crave attention and validation and above all else…they just want to be noticed. And so to achieve this, they 'have to share everything' online. They have to be completely and utterly available to their online audience…because without the theatrics and attention-grabbing posts surrounding their issues there can be little fanfare and interest.
For others, over-sharing online is the perfect escape from accountability and correction…it's a place where people can 'vent' and 'complain' without having to change their circumstances and behaviour or confront those that would challenge them in person. Essentially it is a dream for the perpetual, narcissistic, self-feeding victim; a place where they can play out their victim mentality without having to really change or receive the help that they need or crave.
But then, there are the rest of us.
The social media users who share our lives online for friends and family to see and participate in.
Hence we post photos, we update what we eat, we share our greatest desires for the future, we ask people for advice and guidance during times of turmoil, we prattle on about our love life or lack thereof, and we share our intrepid adventures from the local restaurant (yes, hello Instagramed meal) to the vastness of the globe.
We Comment, we capture and we share our lives for all to see.
And in many ways these social postings or updates are not in themselves wrong or even objectionable. In truth much beauty and solidarity and joy can stem from sharing life moments with those that we truly value and love.
But where do we draw the line?
When have our postings and status updates transcended the simplicity of 'sharing life moments' to attention-seeking, emotionally whiney and unstable postings?
Some things are better left unsaid…and posted!
It is not a novel concept that some things are better left unsaid. I have heard this truism many times and the more I dwell on it, the more I can attest that not everything we think, feel or experience is primed for public consumption. Some things should not be said or shared or even posted for that matter.
But if they must be said…then why oh why do they have to be SOOOO public?
Today the private sphere of communication has been significantly devalued in place of mass approval in this tech savvy age. And as we seek to publicise every feeling and moment, we increasingly expose ourselves to the criticism of others whose prying eyes are watching and judging us.
So what happened to the value in confiding in friends? Or seeking the wisdom of a teacher, a professor, a mentor, or a pastor. Or here's a novel idea…What happened to seeking GOD in moments of sadness or confusion or doubt?
When did public likes and commentary become more valuable and desirable than seeking the commentary of God?
Talk about your joys…
Last week on Instagram I read the most wonderful quote that said…"talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Break the habit. Talk about your joys"
As I pondered its message, I instantly thought of my teenage self, that insecure and scared little girl, who filled her mind with thoughts of angst and worry and self-hate. When I thought of her, I thanked God that she never grew up with a Facebook account, or any other social media site for that matter. I'm sure that if she had, she would have used it to post many self-seeking status updates crying out for attention or validation or boys.
Yet in reality Facebook and other social media outlets aren't really the issue. The issue is this…the joy of knowing God should be central to our lives, not our desire to highlight and publicise our circumstantial problems for online attention and validation.
Now of course problems are unavoidable. We live in a sinful world and we are sinful human beings who hurt others and are in turn hurt ourselves. But shouldn't our problems be confined to a more appropriate sphere… one that is capable, wise, and safe in contending with our issues rather than an online space that can be at times hyper critical, cruel and hazardous?
Isn't the private sphere of friends and family a more appropriate audience than the perilous world of social media?
If they are indeed legitimate struggles, then shouldn't they be directed to a place or to people that can genuinely aid us?
The sad reality is that for some people, Facebook and other social media sites are the only place where they feel safe or even capable of sharing their struggles and insecurities. But this is of course hazardous for both them and their friends.
Not only will their cries for help be relegated to a 'whiny-self-indulgent' standing as post after post is made public, but eventually people will stop listening. They will stop reaching out, they will block them, and finally unfriend them, either on Facebook or in real life.
Facebook is clearly NOT the outlet to lay bare our deepest secrets or our greatest or most recent struggles and insecurities. It is not the forum with which to seek attention or to complain in a self-absorbed manner.
Instead why not use social media outlets to share joyful life moments with our friends and family. And if you need council, love, wisdom or even a friend, then seek it in the private sphere; a place that is both safe and unexposed to the harshness of the online world.
And remember this… the safest and wisest council that is forever available to us is God. He will always keep our confidences, he will guide us wisely and he will fill us with a joy that can never be attained through online validation and attention.
Alison Barkley, a post graduate student at Deakin University, is currently living in the Philippines.
Alison Barkley's archive of articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/alison-barkley.html