"Hi, this looks amazing! Congratulations on the new venture. I was in the neighbourhood and had to see it. How are things?"
"Hi, we're good, having an amazing start. Great you came by. How are you? It's good to see you."
"So it is. And good to finally meet in real life!"
No?!? We met before! At least at the precious venue. I am sure we met before"
"Actually we did not. I dealt with your colleagues. All our communications were through email and social media."
"you must be joking? It really feels as if we met before. "
"I know. I think it's because we get to see a lot of each other via our social media connections, it feels as if we met before. We've shared, and experienced, highlights in our lives, it truly feels as though I know you.”
A confronting situation I am sure some of you have had yourselves. Over the years I have made countless acquaintances online. many of which evolved to true friendships. Some I have met in real life, some not, the latter often due to distance. Friends are friends; I feel no difference between on- and offline friendships. To me, online is just a means of communication. In some cases we’ve known each other for over 10 years and shared plenty of highlights together. And I like to believe that it goes both ways. The fact that over the years I have had several invites that include me into private events such as weddings and special (birthday) parties contribute to this idea. As well as knowing that when travelling I have a place to stay.
While pondering on this idea of our multidimensional personas, I got an invitation to a play called Privacy. A co-production of actor's collectives De warme Winkel and Wunderbaum at the Holland Festival. The description intrigued me:
The boundary between public and private has been demolished and there’s no way back. “Privacy is no longer the social norm” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg reported recently. Not so long ago artists moved and provoked the audience with their dirty sheets and filthy fag ends (Tracey Emin), the birth of their child (Ed van der Elsken and others) and intimate sex scenes (Andy Warhol amongst others). An artistic era has perished as everyone now washes their dirty laundry in public.
The simple yet powerful stage setup, made for an interesting interaction between on stage acting and (live) onscreen projection. Typing this the wording feels wrong. I will elaborate. The stage setting is a with a big bed room closed off with an translucent interactive projection screen in the form of a fly curtain that has multiple functions. A projection screen used for live close ups of the performance, a see through curtain that enhances the performance with use of colours/special effects, a dark curtain to switch acts (the trailer may help t get a better understanding).
I was gripped from the start.The play dances on the border of fiction and reality of the lives of the actors Ward Weemhoff and Wine Dierickx. The fact that they are a couple in real life adds an extra layer to the play. To emphasise diminishing borders of privacy the actors strip of their clothes until they are naked on stage. I got lost in the story, trying to decipher what was inspired, what real, and wat it did to me.
Further thinking made me I realise how, indeed, we've grown accustomed to a certain amount of sharing. That little could still woe us, as it did the public in the time of the aforementioned art performances in the 70's and 80's. I became aware of a continuous moving border of what's acceptable in information sharing and (protected) privacy. How perception depends on the age, cultural groups and interests of the viewer.
And how sometimes there is a, growing, mismatch of perceived and actual effects of our actions in this area. I am well aware that, when following people online I only see what they want me to see. That I experience a curated version of their lives. Where some people curate a bit more than others. Yet sometimes I forget that and find that I draw conclusions based on what I see. That I (re)act as if I actually know them or their situation.
In my early twenties I had a similar interaction. I started a conversation with a familiar face that I saw in the streets in Amsterdam. I was sure that I knew him. When he ignored me, I wanted to speak up. Luckily I realised in time that I did not knew him at all. He was a the presenter of a breakfast show, a Dutch household name. It was right after my pregnancy, a period in which I watched a lot of daytime television. I mistook the familiarity of his face for him being an actual acquaintance.
Plenty is written about our online (social media) presence. There is plenty advice on how to present ourselves online. How to boost our professional profile to seem attractive to employers and potential clients. How to keep your profile clean, safe. And last, but not least how to keep yourself out of unwanted situations.
I choose to be real, to sometimes be silly, or mad, or embarrassing, as the person I am. I am well aware that I share a curated version of me, where I curate little, but chose not to share every boring fart. And when personal, I keep it mostly about me, as that is information and material that is mine. I believe that a client/employer has little interest in my drunken woes, but will appreciate a profile that appears to be human. Rather than a profile so one-sided and ethically correct that I appear to be a robot.
I know people can see plenty of me. And take some precautions. Twitter is open to all, as is my Facebook page. My personal Facebook account is visible only to people I actually know and have had real conversations with, on- and offline. This to protect the privacy of others such as my son. Who am I to make their stories public? But even though I am aware and take precautions, it was not until this conversation that I really experienced the diminishing borders of our on- and offline lives. How the internet can blur the lines of reality. How it can fool our thinking and (re)acting. And showed that though I knew, I still did not fully comprehend. Let along translate it to feelings and experiences. How I would feel and experience it, how others may experience me.
I still stand for what I wrote in the intro, that to me there is no difference between online and offline acquaintances and friends. And I like to keep it that way. But I do think it calls for a certain awareness. To keep reminding ourselves that not all we see is real. And that others only see a curated version of ourselves, act upon the version of us we show them. To understand what types of relationships we have and to decide upfront how we want to act with each type. Do I have a drink with an Instagram follower if i meet them on the street? When I go out, do I check in at the venue live so people can approach me, or do I check in just after I leave? And maybe think of some tricks to easily help us to qualify the type of relationship when we meet someone on the streets we cannot directly place.
There are no right or wrong ways to act. But thinking about it, may help us to act in ways true to the person we are and want to be. And to feel good about it afterwards. After I approached the household name, I felt ashamed. Ashamed that for a second I did not see the difference between a household name and an actual acquaintance. And that I'd almost overstepped a personal border in approaching him. In last week's conversation I captured in the intro, I felt good. Because I was able to add an extra dimension to a person I like, whom until that moment I had only known online. Times change, I have changed. Now I have a better feel of who I want to be in interaction. And in this meeting I knew who I was approaching and felt good about it.
Ps: If you want to see Privacy for yourself, follow this link for performance dates in Belgium and the Netherlands.