In life we all go through different experiences that shape us one way or another. Very often, learning from these experiences and sharing them with others help make us all grow stronger and wiser. However, as we’re increasingly sharing our stories online, it is becoming rare to come across true unchanged true experiences. This decline is baffling as advances in technology have made it easier for us to connect and share our stories with our friends, family and even strangers across the world. Instead of using online communities such as facebook, twitter or Instagram for their intended purposes many use them to misinform and alienate people, twist their realities. This way of distorting realities and our experiences that is so common online has real life repercussions as people get trapped in their online bubbles and deceive and alienate many others in the process. Sharing true experiences has many beneficial values to the teller and the recipient, and if we want to encourage people to share real stories, then we as consumers and producers of online contents must review how we behave online.
Back in the days, what used to hold many people back from sharing their stories were others’ jealousy and the fear of being judged or betrayed. Today, in the social media era we live in, it’s the fear of looking ordinary and flawed. We’ve all seen how some friends and relatives are quick to post their successful and fun moments, yet barely mention challenges or setbacks they face. What some seem to forget is that people can learn from our setbacks and mistakes, just like they are inspired by our success stories. Our online community, just like our physical one, should be made of people we care about, people whose stories and experiences can teach us lessons, and people that we can exchange our experiences without fears of being judged. So, if we are comfortable to share our stories on social media, like many of us think, why is it that we only care to talk about the best and happy stories in our lives…
Sharing a personal experience has many values attached to it. It can be therapeutic, educative, and inspiring. I recently read a mother’s heartbreaking story about the loss of her seven month old baby by suffocation on a disposable nappy bag. This is every parent’s nightmare, yet this mother chose to share her experience to educate other parents about the dangers of disposable nappy bags. Since reading this story, I, myself, have become even more cautious of where I put my daughter’s nappy bags. By sharing this dark episode of her life, this mother does not only educate other parents, she’s also helping herself deal with the emotional burden from her loss. In Psychotherapy, or talking therapies, patients talk to their psychologists, who listen to them without judgement and “help (them) consider how… life experiences influence (their) current thoughts, feelings, relationships, and behaviour. This understanding should enable (patients) to deal with difficult situations more effectively”. A supportive and non judgemental online community can therefore help us deal with our setbacks as well as celebrate our victories, and it’ll be way cheaper than seeing a psychotherapist.
The rise of social media platforms like facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, and Instagram has seen an unprecedented wave of story sharing on an individual as well as organisational level. Yet, on these platforms, individuals seem to be more and more driven by the desire to appear flawless rather than to edify others or for self help. In fact, the business of sharing personal experiences online is so one sided (positive experiences) and narcissistic that it reduces opportunities for others to learn and grow, and fills some people with envy and jealousy. In addition, this focus on perfection puts pressure on many people. They feel scrutinised by friends, family and strangers alike, and as a result perpetuate this vicious trend in order to fit in. As people get trapped in this cycle, many go to the length of altering their experiences to impress their online community. Recently a food blogger from Instagram cheated on a marathon just to appear ace to her followers. We’re being fed a lot of altered, narcissistic and one sided experiences that it’s pushing many of us to become insensitive to other people’s stories, which is also an issue to address.
Online platforms make it possible for us to ignore people, hence disregarding some of the values that has kept us together as communities. These include respect, empathy, and the benefit of the doubt. When I post a new status about my experience or something to do with my live, I get about 5 to 40 people who would react, yet I have 219 friends (most of whom are active). This does not bother me, however in real life, if my friends ignored my story, they would likely be regarded as rude. So this begs the question, how do I explain the limited reaction my posts get from my personal online community? I guess it’s because it’s easy to get away with ignoring others’ presence online, and we’ve all been guilty of it, including myself. With time, we eventually establish the people who are interested in our online stories, yet we keep those people who are very active online but seem to never be interested in our stories and vice versa. In real life, we will not still hang out with someone we have no common interest with, unless they’re family, so how’s our personal online communities different? I know that it’s a popular practice amongst some people to easily add friends they barely know to online circle of friends. But if we are serious about engaging in meaningful ways through sharing our experiences online, then we ought to be more selective about who we let in in our personal online circle, just like we do in our circle of friends in the physical world.
Some people are very private by nature, and choose to share their experiences with very few people. Those of us who already share our positive experiences and stories out there, posting our setbacks should not be too difficult either, provided that we have the right set of friends. Let’s always remember that sharing our problems and setbacks can indicate strength and bravery rather than weakness, because only a few people do it. In fact, many people are so scared to share the challenges they face that they prefer to reach out to strangers in online forums. They forget that everyone goes through setbacks in life; we learn from them and move on. By hiding our setbacks from others, our problems may seem heavier than they are, and we miss the opportunity to heal and bounce back faster with others’ support. Sharing our dark moments can also be a valuable lesson to our friends, and help them realise, for instance, that they should complain less and be more grateful. Sharing our « not so great » experiences within our trusted online circle can help another friend feel relieved for not being alone in their predicament, together you can connect to find solutions to your shared problems.
Story telling is a powerful tool for us to learn and grow. As we are more and more connected online, we must adopt positive behaviours that encourage people to share real stories and engage in meaningful conversations for the benefit of all involved. So next time you want to add a person you don’t know to your online circle of friends, for instance, think about whether that’s the best platform to connect with them; and before you ignore your friend’s post, remember that there is a real person with real feelings who took the time and courage to share their experience with you and others in their online community. It is by acknowledging what we face and taking baby steps that we can make the changes we want to see in our (online) communities and lives.