I Am Not Not Charlie (Sharestentialism Part 2)

Blank feedLast week’s social media response to the killings at Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris reminded me that sometimes I don’t really have a lot of guts when it comes to speaking up. As the “I am Charlie” meme spread across Facebook and Twitter feeds like a match dropped in a hayloft, I didn’t post a thing… not a single thing about the atrocity.

My reaction to the news was sadness for the victims, for their families, for the relentlessness of extremists. I was sad for the concept of freedom of speech. As a big fan of satire, I was sad for the risks those who engage in it take.

But I posted nothing. And as I watched my feed fill up with the bloody pen, I felt really awkward. I couldn’t bring myself to post anything about Charlie Hebdo on my timeline because “Je ne suis pas Charlie.” I’m not. I don’t possess the courage those artists at Charlie Hebdo had. I don’t have the talent. And before this terrible incident, I didn’t even know what Charlie Hebdo was.

I wanted to say this at the time, but I didn’t have the courage to do even that. What if I offended someone who did post the bloody pen to their page?* What kind of supporter of the free press would I look like if I posted such a thing?

In this act of not posting, I was proving my point, I guess. I really am not Charlie.

But then along came a real journalist — one even who writes for the Financial Times — pointing out that, yes, guess what, we’re not Charlie. Other real journalists followed. It wasn’t backlash. Rather, it was honesty. And it was something I could have posted the moment I thought about it.

But I didn’t. I am not even “not Charlie,” apparently. It seems my ideas need the approval of legitimate press, even when I’m pretty sure they aren’t original.

Sharestentialism is my term for the idea that you are what you share. But like the concept of white space, how does it relate to what you don’t share? By not sharing that I’m not Charlie, I was sharing that I have no guts, at least to myself (and my husband in whom I confided my mixed emotions.) I wondered, too, if the absence of “I am Charlie,” from my status update indicated a lack of concern.

Can the image we portray through social media be defined as much by our “silence” as it is by what we share? If the assumption that we are judged (at least sometimes) by what we post on social media is true, then what about what we don’t?

 

* I feel I must apologize to anyone who posted the bloody pen, and also isn’t Charlie. I know you were doing it out of solidarity.

Do we suffer from “sharestentialism”?

Care to share?

Care to share?

My husband is not on Facebook. We were talking about this earlier today, and he wondered what that said about him. As GenXers, I think that our participation in social media isn’t mandatory, and we have that perspective of being too young for it to be irrelevant and too old to accept it without question. (Whoever just heard that line from “Slave to Love” in their head has a mind that works like mine.)

For all its faults, I like Facebook, which is my primary social media outlet. It can serve in so many different ways. It can be like a town square, a place to share information about what’s going on in your community. It closes the distance between friends and family. It re-establishes lost friendships and gives people an easy way to keep up with each other. It enables people to connect regardless of geography, time constraints, life circumstances and the pesky inconvenience of having never actually met.

We all know, though, that it can make us feel bad about ourselves and our choices. Who hasn’t felt that twinge of envy or insult scrolling through their feed? I am fortunate to have a collection of Facebook friends whose social media behavior is outstanding, but when my life isn’t measuring up to my own expectations, a forced absence from Facebook occasionally has been an effective remedy.

My husband, remember — not a Facebook user, brought up an interesting point, which I call “sharestentialism.” It’s so easy to curate a life through a Facebook feed. Will some succumb to the temptation to do so? I can see that this is a slippery slope. You don’t necessarily need to be feeling underwhelmed by your own life to add a little zest here and there. Some people take it even further, leaving a distorted trail of their lives through manipulation of their timeline.

(By the way, due to the fact that a google search produced no results on “sharestentialism”, I am going to take credit for this phrase until proven otherwise. Frankly, I am quite surprised at this. This one was a lay-up. We’ll see how optimized this blog is after I post and search this term again.)

I had my own sharestentialist crisis the other day. My daughter and I visited a local nail salon for her first pedicure. She chose two day-glo colors that were painted in an alternating pattern on her toes and took full advantage of the massage chair. Super Nails is a favorite spot among many of the ladies in my neighborhood, and when I took a photo of my daughter’s feet, my first thought was how cool this would be to post on Facebook.

And it was there that I paused. This was a moment between my daughter and me. This outing was actually quite special. Would either of us gain much by posting this on Facebook? Sure, it wouldn’t hurt, and it was fun “news” with a nice visual. But when I start thinking about my life the way I do about my clients’ marketing, I need to check myself. The essence of this event was what was happening at that moment — a mom introducing her daughter to one of life’s simple pleasures.

I think we already do this to a certain extent with photos. Several years back I was taking pictures of one of my children’s preschool performances. These things provide so many opportunities for adorable shots. But I was spending so much time dealing with the logistics of getting a good photo that I didn’t give the performance my full attention. When did capturing the moment become more important than enjoying the moment?

Now I wonder how often our balance is tipped toward sharing the moment versus living it.

Stuart Chaifetz Shows Us The Real Power of Technology

We all knew on some level how powerful technology has become in our lives, didn’t we?  Even several years back, when today’s revolutionary tools were referred to as Web 2.0, I had an admittedly rather vague concept of what was ahead.  But, often, a person needs to see something action to fully comprehend its impact.  This effort by Stuart Chaifetz to expose the horrible treatment of his autistic son at school has been my “ah-ha” moment.

So there is no confusion, I fully support what Chaifetz has done, from putting a microphone on his child to sharing his story through social media.  The fact is that he and his son — and clearly other families with children in the same classroom — have been victims of terrible treatment.  He followed the steps the system required, and when he ultimately could find no answers, he discovered a creative solution to the problem.  For the sake of Chaifetz’s child and his classmates, I’m glad he did.

My second thought about this situation is how much the world has changed in such a short amount of time.  Even 10 years ago, it would have been very tough for Chaifetz to share his story with anyone outside of his local area.  The process of information like this finding its way to a “traditional” news media outlet used to be difficult and time-consuming.  Granted, as an animal rights activist, Chaifetz knows his stuff.  But, a decade ago, there is no way that by Wednesday evening, I would have bumped into no less than ten people who also read or heard about a story of something that happened at an elementary school halfway across the country simply because it was reported on Yahoo! earlier in the day.  I can’t even remember Yahoo! even having coverage like that on its site.  This was a time when the concept of a “portal,” even, was in its infancy.

Chaifetz put together a website, is collecting online petition signatures, posted a video to YouTube, has a Facebook page, and as a result of all of the attention he’s getting has media coming to him to tell his story.  None of these things are new to me, but when it was put together for this purpose, I was struck by how much the world has changed.  It was just one of those midlife moments.

And what I hope from all of this is that people think twice about how they treat other people.  Maybe this idea is not so naive anymore.  We live in a time when a grade-school teacher who brings her foul mouth and perspective into a local classroom can be chastized by millions throughout the world.  Today this woman is “public enemy no. 1” in the minds of thousands, at least.  I wonder how it feels to be hated by so many people.  And I wonder if the potential of being hated like that will deter even a few people from acting on their worst thoughts or intentions.

If you haven’t seen the video, prepare to set aside 15 minutes to hear the whole thing.  You will be shocked, saddened and likely ultimately very happy that Chaifetz had the tools to tell his story in such a compelling way.