When Facebook first began to spread across college campuses, I was a sophomore headed to the University of Maryland. In 2004, it seemed like an overnight (hostile) takeover — by the time I could process what something like “Facebook” was, everyone in class was buzzing about it . . . and their faces were all over my computer screen. I joined when a friend — a rather out-of-touch, ambivalent friend — told me that even he was on the networking site.
But that was before we even thought about it as “networking.”
Now, of course, it’s taken on a life of its own. Facebook was once my way of posting funny photos with buddies, chatting about school pressures and exchanging ideas about projects due in my history and English classes. It was a way for me to communicate with classmates and laugh about professors. I updated my status all the time with all sorts of nonsense but, in a pre-Twitter world, I figured everyone would care about what it was I was doing right that second.
Remember when your “status” was limited to saying something like “I’m at work” or “I’m at school” — or, when things really evolved, you could write your own text? It was the modern-day version of the AIM profile. We could post thinly-veiled song lyrics alluding to our exes and craft passive-aggressive statements about what recent slight our friends had committed.
Oh, wait. People still do that. And Facebook doesn’t always make us happy.
Now I’m 25. I’ve graduated from college. Everyone and their brother is on Facebook — literally — but this isn’t some random rant about how FB was “better before anyone could join.” I’m not some snobby elitist. And, quite frankly, I’m glad my grandmothers (both!) are on the site; it lets me share photos and other links to what I’m up to and, by proxy, makes me feel closer to everyone. And I don’t have anything to hide.
I’m just more careful about what I share.
I live a public life. Along with write meg!, I write a twice-weekly personal newspaper column. And when I’m not doing either of those two things, I tweet about my goings-on, put my personal photos up on Flickr, share what I’m reading and who I’m talking to and what we’re up to. I don’t hide my face in any of these places and, in the past, have been approached by strangers who “know” me.
Here’s something else about me: despite all this — despite all of this — I still consider myself a private person.
It’s hard to believe, I know. I mean, as my dad would say, I put my business in the streets. But you know? Really, I don’t. Over the course of almost a decade of sharing my personal life on the Internet in some fashion, I’ve realized what it is to censor, delete, edit and present everything in a way that is, I hope, both sincere but not embarrassing.
Just like Facebook.
That’s not to say that I’m dishonest. I don’t consider myself disingenuous, and I certainly don’t lie about what I’m up to. But do I choose to share mostly the details that make me look smart, funny, intelligent, good? Sure. Do I post only flattering photos — the ones where I’m not sporting a whopping double chin and maniacal smile? Absolutely.
Do the people in my life insist I do the same?
I used to write in a journal every night. Before bed, without fail, you’d find me tucked by my pillow with a pen and spiral notebook in hand. Within the pages of more than 20 diaries, you’ll find my reactions, feelings and perceptions of life between the tender ages of 14 and 24.
Then last spring, I stopped writing.
There’s no real reason for it. For years I’d been tormenting myself by rehashing nonsense about love and perpetuating this idea that I would never be happy until I’d accomplished A, B or C. I used my journal as a way to unburden myself — and that’s just what I did. For a decade.
But then I met Spencer and my head was full of . . . well, you know: hearts; stars; fireworks. I started writing my column, where I often chronicle my adventures and share musings on topics as diverse as cupcakes, dogs, the Olympics and sock monkeys. When I’m not writing that, I’m here — talking about books, love, food, life. And I type a whole lot faster than I write.
When it came down to it, I felt like I was running out of words. Writing in my journal became a chore, and it showed; where once I would fill pages about a single day, I began to write only a paragraph.
I share so much of myself in the public arena that, at the end of the day, I sometimes wonder what’s left for me. When I began to get personal letters and e-mails at the paper — notes about things I’d divulged in my columns — I got a little anxious. I chose to share those stories, yes. And I chose to let people into my life in that way. Everyone has been very kind and supportive, and those letters make my day. But realizing that this personal information is out there — about my fears, hopes, apprehensions — makes me . . . well, it makes me a little scared.
So I’m thinking about what I put out into the universe.
Not because I want people to think I’m perfect. Or infallible. Or always, always kind. But because, at the end of the day, I still need things for me. I still need thoughts that are mine and mine alone; fears, goals and stories that I don’t share with anyone but myself or loved ones. When I try to sort through the catacombs of what I’m feeling, there’s a pressing need to retreat inward. To talk it over with me.
I’m not perfect. I smile and laugh and I mean what I say, but I’m prone to introspection. Writing my blog and column is a huge thrill, and nothing means more to me than getting a note or call from someone saying how much they enjoy my writing — but I can’t give everything away.
Some of it is for me.
And my diary — my old friend.