Look up the definition of a manifesto online and you'll find something along the lines of the following: “a written statement that describes the policies, goals, and opinions of a person or group.” This is an attempt at a personal (short) manifesto speaking to our lives online.
In the words of Justin Timberlake in The Social Network: “First we lived on farms, then we lived in cities and now we live online.” If this is true (and I think in light of the ever increasing amount of digital interactions, and the ever decreasing amount of face to face ones, it is), then how does one live online well?
Here are a few thoughts growing into boundaries and guiding principles in my own online life, shared in no particular order:
1. Don’t share more online than you share in your real life. We all know someone who's a chronic oversharer online. Many of us have been that person. Why? In her book, Daring Greatly, Brené Brown gives us a warning about real vs. false vulnerability. She says, “Boundaryless disclosure is one way we protect ourselves from real vulnerability...vulnerability is bankrupt on its own terms when people move from being vulnerable to using vulnerability to deal with unmet needs, get attention, or engage in shock-and-awe behaviors that are so commonplace in today’s culture.” Don’t be more vulnerable online than you are in real life with real friends.
2. Real life friends always have priority over online friends. Not every conversation needs to be mined for tweetable nuggets. Not every party needs to be Instagrammed. Not every facial expression needs to be Snapchatted. Most of the time we need to simply put away our phones and BE with our friends. If our online habits are a distraction or a destruction to real life friendships, we need to rethink them.
3. Practice empathy in all of your online interactions. This is what made Louis CK’s latest appearance on Conan so genius. He gave the analogy of calling someone fat online vs. to their face, making the point that when you do it online you get all the good parts of how it made you feel minus the hard parts of how it made them feel. If the words of a whisperer are like delicious bites of food going down (Proverbs 18:8), then online comments are like an all you can eat buffet. Never say anything online you don’t first imagine yourself saying to their face. Otherwise you’re just doing pornography but with words.
4. Work hard at using social media to enhance your real life, not escape it. Seth Godin provocatively likes to say “Instead of wondering when your next vacation is, maybe you should set up a life you don’t need to escape from.” The same applies for the way we do life online. How can we use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. to connect instead of becoming increasingly disconnected?
5. Carefully watch your “people I wish I knew” to “people I already know” interaction ratio. This one especially applies to Twitter when your favorite famous person is just an @ away. The danger here is beginning to lose yourself in an attempt to be-“friend” a person (or group of people) you don’t really know. In the words of Jonathan Franzen, “One of the worst things about the internet is that it tempts everyone to be a sophisticate – to take positions on what is hip and to consider, under pain of being considered unhip, the positions that everyone else is taking.”
6. Talk about your online life with real life friends. Only your real friends can help you from pulling a Sad Batman. It’s when you have an online alter ego, but instead of fighting criminals you’re fighting for likes and retweets. You need real friends who can loving rebuke and speak into your online presence. You need to have a couple of friends you’re regularly talking to about the temptations and interactions happening in your online life.
7. You’re worth far more than your follower count. All the love in the world means almost nothing when it comes from people who know who you are but don’t actually know you. Trust me. If you measure your worth in retweets and likes, favorites and followers, you will never measure up because you’re only as good as your last post. You’ll never be enough. But if you measure your worth by your preciousness to God and a growing nearness to the people who love you, you can rest easy in the knowledge that you are enough for them. They love you for who you are not who you’re trying to be. I’ve always loved the way CS Lewis says it in Prince Caspian: “You come from the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve”, said Aslan. “And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth; Be content.”