Private Lives

When did we stop having private lives?

I feel it must be linked on some level to social media. Once upon a time, in the eighties and nineties, I had a world in my head I never shared, except with a few trusted friends and my mother. Thoughts, dreams, daily happenings. Beautiful things glimpsed or moments of insight.

They came and went like the tides. I didn’t feel the need to pin them down or capture them for posterity. Maybe the odd scribble in a journal, or a photo when on holiday but nothing major.

It’s different now though, I see the world through my phone camera lens, everything can be captured and recorded. I take pictures everywhere. I wouldn’t invite strangers into my home but I’ll post pictures of my kitchen when I’ve been baking or my balcony plants on Sunday morning while in my pyjamas. I share thoughts and feelings. This is normal behaviour for me and millions of others. (The irony of writing a blog post to explore this isn’t lost on me.)

This is where my questions begin. The sharing can be positive, other people’s sharing can inspire me, make me feel closer to them, though often distant geographically. I can share with like minded souls on topics of interest, I have even made new friends.

On the other hand the desire to be “seen” and to conform is a powerful pull and not always helpful. I went to see an exhibition yesterday at the Herne Bay Museum, it was a series of sketches and paintings of the rebuilding of sea defenses made in 1980 to 1981. It reminded me that there was a time when we didn’t have social media and digital phone cameras. When glimpses of other people’s lives and day to day happenings was unusual and rare.

Maybe we collectively enjoy keeping tabs on each other. Maybe social media is a giant, global, curtain-twitch, “what are the neighbours up to?”

What I know it is a lot of work. Despite having cut my social media use and consumption dramatically I continue to spend hours each week checking and posting.

Of course I will lose out if I stop posting, I will miss seeing things that are interesting or important. I may lose touch with some people. I will be opting out of the party.

But there is, some days, just too much to pay attention to. My brain creaks under the stain of this constant flood of information, it becomes harder and harder to filter out what is needed, like a storm drain, dragging in sewage as well as rain water.

And there will be a life outside. A life of precious and unique moments just for me and those I am with, connected in time and space, the augmented reality of real, non-virtual life. Four dimensions and all the senses!

I haven’t yet found “the answer”. I’ve never believed it’s possible to turn back the clock, or particularly wanted to deny the positives of technology, which are many. For me the wondering is about how I use that technology.

On balance does it help or harm? On balance does it bring life, joy and peace, or tension, strain and anxiety?

What would it be like to have a private life again?

And am I brave enough to find out?

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