Letters to a Younger Self is an ongoing series where we look back on mistakes made and lessons learned — usually. But not always. While eating cold pizza for breakfast — and glean lessons that might have served us better if we were younger. If only we knew then what we are just starting to know now.
On Sharing Online
Dear young person from roughly the ages of 11 to 19,
It might be difficult to imagine at this point — given that, for you, the Internet is most useful for softly yearning via AIM away message and finding clip art suitable for Power Point presentations — but, at a point in the not too distant future, you will use it for nearly everything. It will allow the whole world to be at your very fingertips. You will Google all manner of answers and theories to questions like “what is normal size for tongue” and “how to twerk.”
And, soon enough, the Internet will be just another way to talk to people. All sorts of people! People with whom you’re friends, people with whom you work for or would like to work with, people with whom you’d like to flirt shamelessly in the public square for all to see. This, then, is why it is vital that you learn one very important aspect of sharing and communicating online: keep some of it for yourself.
There will be times when you feel a desire to vent, or to seek out some sort of human connection — any human connection — in times of loneliness or boredom or despair. And there are many people who will reach out for the hand that you extend. And there are some who certainly will not.
It is important to keep things for yourself, to assign a value to your privacy and to not allow others to devalue it.
There will be people who believe that because you allow them a little glimpse into your life — a picture of a meal, a conversation with a friend, an announcement of a birthday — they know you rather than merely knowing things about you.
Keep these people at bay. Remember to not allow them to get too close or to peer too deeply into your activities, or the way you think and feel about them. Give them just enough, and now that it’s very, very difficult, maybe even impossible, to catch a bird that’s been released or to delete a bird-related metaphor that you immediately regret for being so overwrought.
Do this not because you may risk being hurt — that risk will be at play any time you open yourself up to anyone, regardless or where or how — and not just because there are some things that you should keep for yourself, because that line is different for everyone. Do it because the internet is not your therapist, and while strangers can offer validation and attention, support or just a voice in the silence (to be all gross about it), none of that is sustainable, because it is predicated on an image you are building. Curating, even (to be even more gross about it).
Know the difference, and know when to log out.