I miss the way the internet used to be.
I know that seems silly of me, because as a “millenial” I should be gung-ho about social media, and I am, to a degree. But I remember the old days…
You know, the days when you could write about the last day of seventh grade, and how a boy hugged you goodbye and you liked it, even though your best friend had a crush on him, and know said best friend wouldn’t stumble upon what you wrote. The days when you could keep an “online journal” (the word blog hadn’t yet entered my vocabulary) on a public website and not have to worry about anyone finding it. For years, I successfully navigated this secret world of The Internets, limited mostly to journaling, never creepy chatrooms or fan groups, without anyone in my day-to-day life being the wiser.
It was an easy secret to keep, too, for a few reasons. For one, I was embarassed. What, I can’t make enough friends in real life, so I have to turn to people online? I knew that most people would think it a bit odd that one of my best friends in late high school lived in New Hampshire – and we’d never met in person. Second, I was afraid of what my parents would think. As parents go, they’ve always been relatively laid-back, but the general reaction to, “Your teenage daughter spends half her time talking to strangers over the internet,” is probably not stellar. The internet was personal to me, somewhere in which I could be accepted, and a place in which I could be myself, not this awkward, shy girl I was in my real life.
And it changed my life, that internet. I won’t go into details because they’d bore you, but I 100% believe that without the internet – and the people I met there – I would NOT be who I am. I don’t know if I ever could have come to terms with my anxiety issues – or admitted to anyone that they exist – without knowing that, somewhere, there are other people who feel the same. I don’t know if I would have learned to be so open-minded and accepting of others who are different than myself. I don’t know if I would have learned to be as accepting of… myself.
But here’s the thing. That was then, and this is now. Now when you write in a public space, it’s meant for the world to see – and oh, the world will see it. You can’t swing a stick on the internet without it hitting your boss, or your mom, or your boss’s mom’s dog. You can’t get away from the horror stories: the teacher (who was over 21) who posted a picture of herself drinking alcohol at a Halloween party and lost her job; all the beauty pageant contestants whose Facebook albums came back to haunt them and steal their tiaras; all the people who use Twitter to keep in touch with friends but end up busted for making a less-than-polite comment about their boss/job/workplace.
People used to use the internet to connect on a personal level – or, at least, that was my experience – but now it’s all about professional connections. It’s about LinkedIn profiles and How to Use Twitter to Get a Job and all the reasons I, as a recruiter, should love social media. I don’t think that I do. While I understand that the internet is not private, I will forever hold onto the belief that my personal life is. I don’t agree that Facebook and Twitter are only for work-related purposes, nor do I agree that they are accurate ways to measure someone’s worth as an employee. I’ve had to check candidates’ Facebooks in the past, at the request of my boss at the time, and it bothered me then as much as it does now.
And it bothers me that I – and probably many others – feel that I can’t be myself because everyone is watching. Everything I do online, with the exception of this blog (which I’m sure about two people actually read), is private/friends-only. That, to me, is the safest way of doing things.
I miss the days when everything could be public and no one would care or try to find it. I never thought I’d say this, ever, but sometimes I miss the time when there was no such thing as Facebook. It’s a double-edged sword, this whole everyone-being-online thing. It’s no longer embarassing to say you connect with people from the internet, and it’s certainly not weird to say you write or blog online. But that used to be about having something to say and now all you hear about is Personal Branding, how to Get Your Name Out There so employers can find you in Google searches, how to use your Twitter account for work.
For someone such as myself with such a strong feeling about the need for work/life balance, it’s a little much. For someone who, as honest and loud as I am on the internet, really values her privacy, it’s a lot to take in.
I used to wish that more people understood this magical thing called the internet, that it would make sense to others what I enjoyed about it. I didn’t want to feel embarassed or like the giant nerd I am. It seems I’ve gotten my wish, only now I’m not so sure that’s what I should have wished for to begin with. You know that favorite bar you probably had, back in the day? Some little dive on the corner, your own personal Cheers or whatever? It was like that. And when the bar got a good review or a remodel, and everyone started pouring in? And the clientele changed, and now it was the place to see and be seen rather than sip a pint in the corner with a friend?
Yeah. It’s like that.