“Back in the day” (well, just back in the early days of the web), remember screen names? You know. Those wacky “handles” we came up with that allowed use to participate freely in early social platforms without any one knowing our true identity. We were “redcaper145365” (my apologies to the person who may have actually/still is that) and were able to be who ever we wanted to be. In short, we weren’t who we actually are. Listen to Brad Paisley’s “Online” and you’ll know exactly what I am speaking of. We were able to truly be “so much cooler online”.
Today’s social platforms are a bit different. We are required to use our real names. We put our real pictures up. So forth and so on. We are more real and authentic of our true selves. This particular aspect of social networking has caused a lot of debate, and caused many to shun the services all together.
Just recently I sat down and fully read Pope Benedict’s Message For the 45th World Communications Day. If you haven’t taken the time to read this or his other messages in regards to digital media, please do. They have a ton of great insight and advice in them. Anyway, one of the biggest pieces that stood out to me was the idea of being one’s true self online.
“Entering cyberspace can be a sign of an authentic search for personal encounters with others, provided that attention is paid to avoiding dangers such as enclosing oneself in a sort of parallel existence, or excessive exposure to the virtual world. In the search for sharing, for “friends”, there is the challenge to be authentic and faithful, and not give in to the illusion of constructing an artificial public profile for oneself.” (Message For the 45th World Communications Day)
As Catholics endeavoring to spread the Good News of the Gospel how would it be possible to to be true witnesses being something/someone other than our true selves? This is a dilemma for young people especially who are constantly susceptible to peer pressure. To be someone that “fits in”. Greater exposure online can cause this “pressure” to be even greater. Guidance and great online examples from their parish community is very important. Be their role model and seek their participation on say the parish Facebook Page (if you have one).
This temptation to be someone other than ourselves online is not uncommon for adults either. I can tell you that it takes only one physical encounter that one’s behavior online comes up, that you get the message. One thing is true today in regards to onlinee and offline . . . the lines are gone. They are one and the same. Therefore, we can leverage these great new tools and take advantage of the great opportunities to be true witnesses of Christ. But we can only accomplish that through being our authentic selves. We should seek not a “quantity” of “friends”/”connections”, but seek to “foster human relationships which are truly deep and lasting”.
Then there’s the question of privacy and safety. This is a very real and valid concern. It is important to be aware of “Privacy Settings” and utilize them properly. And it is important to not succumb to the competitive idea of having the “most friends” by connecting with just anyone. And we need to teach our young people this as well. I remember back with MySpace and the notion of having “1 million ‘friends'”. Seriously? Granted the organization that seeks to serve the masses will most likely attract large “fan bases” and that is a good thing, but from the individual standpoint there is no real point in seeking that. You gain nothing and only open yourself up to harm.
What do you think? Are you someone other than yourself online? How do you teach your children about this notion?