The Different People We Are When We Write

The subject came up in class last week.  One of my students mentioned an article on social media and she told the class that the piece got her thinking about how and why and whether she should use social media.  The conversation broadened a bit to one about integrity, keeping ourselves whole, while we communicate and present ourselves as ourselves in various contexts, through different platforms.  In other words, who I am in person, when you walk up to me on 55th Street is the same or is different from the person writing this post or updating facebook.

Then I read this article by one of the writing professionals I follow, Jane Friedman where she talks about what we used to do when we wrote letters.  Her words got me thinking about all the stamps I bought in high school and college when I wrote love poems and long letters to the young ladies I liked. 

In both experiences–in class and when reading Jane’s post–I’m reminded that how we communicate has changed.  This is not news.  We know this.  But it’s worth keeping in mind.  My son will likely never know what it means to write a letter long hand.  Except when I make him do it, right before he recasts me in that category of “old.”  He’ll only know through the storytelling sessions, whatever they’ll be called, when we explain what those envelopes are from Dr. Joseph who has consistently (and solely) wrote mailed envelopes to him since before he was born.

We don’t write the way we once did, most of us.  Even when most people do write, when we’re online, it takes effort to be who we are.  It’s easy to present yourself to facebook–to your friends there–in a way that’s distinct from who you are during most of your life.  Different from who you are during the rest of your life.

I think life’s about being who you are, finding out who you are and being who you are.  Not someone else.  I like to tell people that no matter where I am I will always be a Christian.  I will always be Dawn’s husband.  I will always be Bryce’s father.  Even when I make Jesus and my wife and my boy upset, that’s who I am.

I know there’s a good chunk of news these days about people developing alternative selves, affairs, and new identities with the tools of social media.  I realize that some people are disposed to having a group of people in “this” area who never reach or touch a separate group in “that” area.  Work friends are work friends.  Relatives never meet college friends.  And on and on.

But wouldn’t life be simpler if we weren’t different people when we wrote, whether in an old long-hand letter, on a blog, or in an update?

Any thoughts?

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2 thoughts on “The Different People We Are When We Write

  1. Thanks for mentioning my post!

    What strikes me as I read your post is that online venues like Facebook offer a very specific form/template in which to “plug in” your personality. They set a lot of the parameters about how you can express yourself, and also how you think of yourself.

    Sitting down to write a longhand letter, I’m struck at how free form the expression is (you have to choose the paper, the pen, how carefully you will write), at how much more we risk, and how much more we have to think about presenting ourselves.

    But … it’s yet another version of ourselves. A version that’s different than what we’d present in an e-mail. Or a Facebook message. Or a Tweet.

    All these different versions (fragments) of ourselves! I like to think there are only a few special people in the world who know how those fragments fit together.

    • Jane, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I think I think like you on this, especially as it relates to those last words. A few special people in the world who know how those fragments fit together. And thanks for the good work on (both) your blogs!

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