Getting personal with an impersonal network

I wanted to write about an increasingly interesting subject for me of late, discussing or mentioning personal information on shared networks or open webspace.

I’ve always been a very open person in my life, too much so people sometimes tell me, but I rather like being that way. It means that you can share your life and let others in to share it with you, building fast connections with people through trust and feeling closer to people through shared knowledge, and personal details. Obviously there’s a downside, sometimes (but thankfully very rarely) I have found people judge you on being so open – feeling as if you’re after something, or being a scared off if they’re a much more closed person. Personally, I think the upside of sharing personal feelings, events and thoughts far outweighs the downside. It’s been the foundation of some of my strongest relationships.

So I’ve been thinking about this in relation to the internet, and social networks and communities. It’s like another step along the scale of being open, as not only are you sharing your thoughts and personal information with your friends and would be friends, but complete strangers too. Also, these thoughts are written down, or captured somehow in order for them to be passed into the network. So it’s not just hearsay anymore, it’s hard written/photographed/recorded fact. Makes it seem so much more important to really think about what you’re “saying” in your networks, and how you “say” it. Once it’s out there, it’s out there!

Are you happy for everyone to know this thing, now and forever? In a world where socialising increasingly happens online and in game, I think it’s a question that people will come across sooner or later. How will you deal with it?

To look at what I mean with a real life example: I am pregnant πŸ™‚ Horay! It is very exciting, and I have been wanting to Twitter my feelings and pregnancy-related-what-I’m-up-to’s for the last 3 months, but didn’t due to the usual 12 week caveat that comes with being pregnant.

However, at the same time I knew I wanted to mention it when I got to the 12 week safer point (ie, now) but I couldn’t work out how, and if I should. I asked a few people and they were the same as me – yes mention it, but what if you loose the baby? Being pregnant is obviously very personal but the happiness and excitement it brings is contagious, people seem to love knowing about a new addition in my short experience, whereas talking about loosing a baby seems infinately more personal and somehow out of bounds. Most likely because it’s so rarely talked about as it’s such a painful experience, and people would just rather not think about it or know it happens. Sharing bad events just seems harder to me, perhaps this comes back to my use of social media tools as a sort of Thayer PR, a happy place where everything is fun and happy. I only talk about fun bits of jobs, not the bits I hate, and I don’t mention depression, just excitement.

Eventually after thinking about it long and hard I settled on this post, a true reflection of the confusion I’ve felt surrounding how much info to put out there in particular about my pregnancy. That way you know it’s been put out there with a lot of thought, and hopefully some of you will share your thoughts on how much of your private life you share on networks that have started off professional and ended up being more personal, with the odd added stranger in there too!

I’d love to hear anyone else who’s been through a personal situation and chosen to either discuss it or not, and if you did mention/discuss personal what was the fallout? Were you glad you did or did it bite you on the bum? All your thoughts on why you do or don’t share personal life events would be really glady received whilst I work out where I stand on it all.

Overall, I feel like I want to share my life, just as I’ve done face to face, but a part of me just can’t help feeling there’s something out there that should mean I shouldn’t… We shall see!

About Thayer Prime

Tall. Eats a lot. Talks too much. I tweet over @thayer
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19 Responses to Getting personal with an impersonal network

  1. Anonymous says:

    More questions than answers πŸ™‚
    Firstly: congratulations! Welcome to one of life’s greatest adventures. Admittedly I have a male perspective on the whole thing, but it is an amazing journey. With 4 kids I’ve been through the journey different ways, which makes your question a tough one.
    One part of me says that we should share the good as well as the bad. It would be a shame if social media perpetuated or even worsened the distorted worldview that mass media propagates, through advertising and celeb PR.
    Another part of me says that when we are raw, we are raw. Having studied a celebrity that was dragged through the mill, I’m not sure that a public medium is a place for good therapy. Sometimes we need space, and to be surrounded and protected by our loved ones. An impersonal network is just that, and the greatest hurts can come from the impersonal intruding into the personal.
    This new world is still very much under construction. We make the rules, to some extent, and they make us. My closest experience so far was the recent death of fellow blogger and friend Galba Bright. It has been dignified and encouraging, and the shared morning has softened the tragic loss. I don’t know that every situation would turn out that way.
    Someone wiser than me could probably come up with a good taxonomy, I would suspect that common social themes with shared meaning – like a growing family! – go well. I think things that have less shared meaning in society might be harder.
    Turning it around a little, remember that some bits of the impersonal network are personal, and friends are with you, however life’s road winds.
    We shared your joy! Just go easy on the food and stomach issue stories :).

    • Thayer Prime says:

      Re: More questions than answers πŸ™‚
      Haha, don’t worry, this isn’t an opener to me being Mum Thayer 24/7 πŸ˜‰ Just an opener to how I feel about discussing the odd pregnancy news that might pop up. The dodgy morning sickness is all finished now, so fret ye not.. haha!
      Thanks for the really interesting and well thought reply Ben. A very good read.

  2. Anonymous says:

    That’s fab news Thayer, thanks for sharing it with us.
    I understand your dilemna entireley, and the down-side of obeying the 12 week taboo (cause that’s what it is), is that you then can’t share with anyone when things go wrong either. And that’s a big deal too.
    I personally believe in the karmic principle of getting back what you put out in the world – and sharing who you are and what is going on in your life in richer detail can lead to new genuine friendships in surprising places.
    Blog on girl!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Reception perception
    It’s difficult, no question…
    For me – and I think maybe a lot of people – it’s the worry of how you’ll be perceived that’s the main issue with choosing mechanism used to disseminate The News.
    I think what you’ve done here is great–congratulations again! You’ve established who you are, expressed your intentions clearly and then actually delivered The News. Concise, controlled, contextual.
    The frightening aspect is when you loose the aspects of setting and such; loss of context or information simply being handed-off via idle – or too short (i.e. Twitter) – communication that allows ‘erroneous data’ to enter the stream.
    But, as you say, you can’t unpublish something on the web–a lesson I may eventually learn one day, having been repeatedly burned by this fact (though not regarding anything as important as your announcement!).
    For me, the comfort in disseminating this very personal sort of information is making sure you’re contented that you’ve established yourself as the authority on this information. As you’ve done here, with this excellent article.
    That’s not to say everyone’s going to read all that you write, but at least you’ve the detail here to make the absolute facts unequivocal.
    I’m very pleased for you – you’ll be a fantastic mummy. πŸ™‚

  4. danmorelle says:

    puppy dog close
    Congratulations Thayer, life is going to change for you in a dramatic and hugely satisfying way. In six months time I expect blogging might be the last thing on your mind!
    Looking at most personal blogs is like looking through family photo albums and just seeing smiling faces – its an edited recording of personal history. I understand people censoring their lives from others.
    I take photos when my kids are unwell, when people are cross, when life is tough but also when there is genuine happiness and laughter, not posing ‘cheese’ faces for the camera.
    I think that the more you open up to the world the more it opens up to you.
    Over the next few months I suggest you savor your sleep, just in case πŸ™‚
    Congratulations again!

  5. Thayer Prime says:

    Thank you πŸ™‚
    Thanks all, great comments, made me feel much more comfortable about writing this post πŸ™‚

  6. Anonymous says:

    Congratulations from a virtual stranger…
    Nice post. As long as you go into anything (in terms of sharing info) with your eyes wide open I don’t think you’ll go far wrong…
    Having kids is a strange thing – For me and all my mates, it actually made it even easier to share extremely personal information both face-to-face and online with relative strangers. It completely breaks down some of the social barriers – in particular the “never talk to strangers” aspect of living in London.
    I tell you what though – in a few months’ time is when it starts to get interesting – when you’ve got responsibility for someone else’s privacy as well as your own.
    I’ve got two kids, and clearly refer to them in tweets, posts, on flickr and youtube, but go out of my way not to use their full names where I can.
    Not because I’m worried about BAD PEOPLE online, but more because I want my kids to leave their own digital trails when they decide to, not when I do. When their mates google or facebook them (or whatever it will be then), I want those mates to come up with stuff that my kids have posted themselves, NOT stuff that I’ve posted about them…
    But it’s horses for courses – some of my friends are totally open about their kids. And fair play to them…
    Anyway, enough rambling. Congratulations to you. I only know you through your blog/tweets (though we met briefly once at chinwag do). But that won’t stop me from wishing you all the best.
    And I guess me having that genuine desire to congratulate you shows the personal power of an impersonal network… (And a genuinely interesting blog post too)

    • Thayer Prime says:

      Re: Congratulations from a virtual stranger…
      Hi GingerMonkey,
      Thanks for your comment. Do you have a blog? I followed your OpenId but it’s all very mysterious πŸ™‚
      Very interesting point about what you said on your children’s digital trails. I had the same thought actually, and chose to put my scan pics on Flickr but only to my close friends. So I did lock down the detail that is personal to my baby, it just felt like the right thing to do.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Gingermonkey blog
    Hi there. I’ve never quite trucked with openid, but use it to set up some twtterfeeds. Anyway, I’m at, or Do come say hi…

  8. Anonymous says:

    Let it all hang out
    I have a couple of friends who have recently had a son, and they blogged about it all the way through (after the 12 week mark) and since.
    The point that really relates here though, particularly when you talk about what happens if you lose the child, is that last year this couple lost a child in perhaps the most painful way possible – their daughter Amy was stillborn.
    Their grief was obviously a very important part of who they were right then (and now). They decided to share it via their blogs and one of them created a podcast discussing their recent pregnancy and how he felt about losing Amy:
    As a friend, at times this was painful to read. They’re a very religious couple and so it wasn’t just grief, it was about their struggle with their relationship with God. They wear their hearts on their sleeves, and it was at times raw. I still haven’t been able to bring myself to listening to all of Ben’s podcasts. However I genuinely feel they did the right thing. By sharing that grief their circle of friends were better able to support them. Those who weren’t their friends and didn’t care moved along.
    I don’t see them more than a couple of times a year, however I feel I know them better than some people I see every week. Is that a bad thing? What does it say about my interactions with people I see weekly?
    Even more importantly, those blogs and podcasts might help another couple one day deal with their own loss. Somebody might be feeling desperately low about a lost child, they might find Ben & Mary-lou’s story, they might realise those feelings are normal and that there is another side of the canyon they feel they’re falling down. They might even learn that Ben & Mary-lou tried for another child, they were successful and they had a beautiful, healthy boy. That might help a couple realise that whilst they will always grieve, there is hope. There’s a future.
    That’s not impersonal. That’s the ultimate in being personal. It’s humans reaching out and touching each other over something raw and emotional, and creating understanding. Why would we be scared of that?
    Personally, I feel that if something is a big part of who you are, it’s impossible to publish thoughts and feelings without them having an impact. This isn’t a new phenomenon – it’s been an issue in IRC, newsgroups, the earliest stages of blogging – it’s just now more (non-geek) people are using these technologies and their more modern and directly social counterparts, for the first time.
    If people don’t want to hear about your pregnancy or losing a child, they’ll not follow you on twitter or read your blog if that’s what you post about. So what? You have to decide whether your interaction is about you, or some other topic. If you only end up with your genuine friends following you on twitter or your Facebook status, doesn’t that mean that by definition the tool has become more powerful for you?
    Shouldn’t we all be trying to make our social networks more personal and relevant?
    By the way, congratulations! I really mean that. You don’t know me, we’ve never met, and we probably will never meet, but I genuinely feel happy for you. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? And it’s only possible because you decided to be personal about your life via what you consider a very impersonal medium…
    Paul Robinson

    • Thayer Prime says:

      Re: Let it all hang out
      Hi Paul,
      Thanks so much for such an interesting and detailed reply Paul. Also really good to hear about your friends and their happy ending. It is always a worry that things could not work out how you would like, but as my sister said when I talked it through with her, why hide the good news just in case of bad. Plus, as she and you have both pointed out, if something were to go wrong during my pregnancy, I will be looking to the support of my friends and network.
      I really like your point about your network only becoming more powerful if people who aren’t interested in what is important to you drop out.
      Thanks again, and good to make your e-quaintance πŸ™‚

  9. Anonymous says:

    The personal and how personal
    Firstly, I’d like to say congratulations and I’m sure everything will run like clock-work with your pregnancy particularly as you are young and healthy.
    Your post about personal info is very pertinent and this is something I have thought about from the very early days that I started using and posting thoughts & comments online (close to 15 years). Like you, I have kept my postings positive or at least the kind of thing you would be happy grumbling about with a train passenger or a newly met contact. Many of my early posts didn’t mention the names of my family as a protection for them as much as me, although I regularly use their names these days.
    I think over time we become happier to report more and more personal ‘stuff’, but I think there should still be a barrier between me (or you!) and the ‘audience’.
    For instance, I recently had a bit of a health scare, but didn’t twitter it as this automatically feeds onto my facebook account where a number of my contacts are friends and family and I had not mentioned it to any of them (some very close). I chose not to discuss this very personal area of my life as it was the responsible thing to do. Had I blogged/twittered it, the ramifications in the short term (shock to members of my family) and long term (possible damage to future employment prospects) were serious.
    I have also wondered what the ramifications are if we are still blogging and then suddenly pass away: What are the consequences of this? I don’t know the answer, but perhaps it is worth thinking about…

  10. Anonymous says:

    Hi T
    Well bloody done.
    good going and good luck with the next 6 months or so.
    welcome to a brand new club, and if you always look at it as a RPG it makes things more bearable,
    and remember cherish your sleep and silence NOW before it is too late.
    Interesting comments about life and work but I do think things are becoming more blurred (not going to win any prized with that conclusion – ofcourse it bloody is, it all is)
    anyway i do think work/home/twittering/blogging – where do you draw the lines. someone recently told me we blog what we want to be/do. people asperationally blog, and i think that is true for other digital formats – No one flickrs the REALLY bad ones, or twitters toilet movements, only the life we like, or have to accept.
    I blog most if not all of my life – not through my blog anymore but with 3 kids it has to be quicker, adn i rely on meta blogging (GSM, Flickr, Twitter,, gamer cards, and achievments – a kind of watch my life unfold and make your own assumptions.
    but again i do draw lines (no flickr of kids to non friends and family) and kids names as initials, only friends know true names.
    here is a question: when is a friend a friend/associate/online buddy/RL buddy/family
    again blur.
    speak soon

  11. Anonymous says:

    Personal news
    Congrats on your news and I hope it all goes well.
    I post on a message board, and have posted negative events and the feelings around them, as well as the positive. Overwhelmingly the response has been one of compassion and support and it’s always been worth it. I hope you don’t have any negative news to report on this (of course) but if you ever do I think you’d be surprised at the level of support that can be derived, even from people you don’t know.
    Good luck,

  12. Thayer Prime says:

    More thanks
    Thanks again to both Pixellove and Debbie, great to hear your views, and thanks for the congratulations πŸ™‚

  13. Anonymous says:

    I’ve only just read this! Congratulations! πŸ˜€
    I pretty much twittered the majority of the labour and don’t have any regrets yet. Actually, I’m kinda glad I did because I can go back and laugh at it. I’m even thinking of collating what I wrote into a blog post or something. You know, in case Twitter ever implodes or whatever. πŸ™‚
    Anyway, best of luck to you guys! It’s a whole new world!

  14. Anonymous says:

    Congratulations. You will be a fabulous mummy.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Hi Thayer! Wonderful news – only just read it.
    Best wishes for you and bump πŸ™‚
    Lisa (Carsonified) x

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