June 7, 2013
I enjoy writing these weekly recaps a lot, but lately I’m struck by how inadequate they feel. Part of it is that I’m not a very flexible writer and certain events don’t translate well. Part of it is that our summers tend to follow familiar rhythms (beach-museum-crustacean, beach-museum-crustacean, etc.) and maybe I’m just tapped out writing about those rhythms. The biggest reason I can identify is that large, interesting sections of our lives are off limits here. I’m not going to talk in much detail about my professional life, though there is much to say. Likewise, some of the more private hopes and fears that Maggie and I share aren’t going to get the 13 Weekends treatment.
While it’s never been easier, technologically speaking, to share these thoughts, this medium isn’t an appropriate place to share them. The internet is good at giving your thoughts a wider audience, at least relative to more traditionally private channels like the phone, postal mail, even email. I’m connected to more people today than I ever would have been if I were 33 in 1983 (we can debate the strength of these connections). The internet is not good at keeping those thoughts contained or private.
In seizing the opportunity to share one’s thoughts with a broader audience, are we over-emphasizing the easy stories and, in the process, distorting our own self-image? After all, life is not always a beach. I worry that the thrill of public sharing closes off avenues for sharing truly personal communications and, by doing so, we’re creating distorted stories about our own lives, stories that are composed largely by what we’re comfortable sharing online. Private and semi-private reflection seems like a rarity to me, something my parents did.
Lots of people rush to point fingers at the technology: the internet is too transparent, it’s set up only to broadcast, Twitter makes us dumb. Maybe so. But this feels like misplaced blame to me, like yelling "look at what you did!" at the DVD player after a night spent binging on episodes of Homeland. The problem isn’t that the technology has changed, it’s that we’ve decided we really like what the new technology offers and haven’t done a good job of balancing our diets. As memoirists, we’ve chosen broader, less personal audiences over intimate ones. We like the Likes and, as a result, what we write isn’t as all-encompassing—isn’t as true—as it might be.
I liken it to the kind of foods I ate growing up. It was heavily processed, cheap, convenient, and fast, at the expense of nutritional value. It tasted good. It just wasn’t that good for me. Our information diets have likewise skewed toward services that are cheap, convenient, and fast. At what expense?
I need to make an effort to regain some balance. I never wrote many letters but I used to write longer emails to small groups of people. I want to get back to a place like that, a place where myself and others can connect more profoundly with smaller audiences.