"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Adaptability
September 1, 2008

Why You Won’t Find My Goals Online

How much of ourselves should we reveal online? It’s a challenging question and the answers are not as obvious as they first seem.

Last week two blogposts challenged me to think about my online persona. First, Jason Clark posted about making public his personal goals. I’m impressed by Jason’s skill and courage in clearly articulating some challenging personal ambitions making himself publicly accountable to them. My own tendency is to speak less about my personal (and “professional”) aspirations. Partly because my weakness is being a “promise more than I deliver” sort of guy. But, mostly because my life has taken so many twists and turns. In recent years that it’s hard to know which of my dreams are realistic and what obstacles may get in the way. It feels odd to aim at targets that might take five to ten years to hit. I don’t know what continent I’ll be living on in ten years (or how many times I’ll move in the interim).

The other challenging post was John Smulo’s reflection on the struggles he has faced in the last year. He raised some thoughtful questions about how transparent we are. John asked if it’s inevitable that we’ll wear social masks. online and in contexts like churches (I contributed a lengthy comment to that discussion).

The juxtaposition of those two formidable posts is both taxing and illuminating, because considering John’s questions pushes me to reconsider my reticence to follow Jason’s example.

Goals, Masks, and Transparency

In his post, John contrasts “masks” and “transparency.” Personally, I’m not convinced we should ever wear masks, online, in our work, or relationships. To me, masks are a sign of dishonesty; pretending to be something we are not. Online it’s easy to become our avatar (which is surely the post-modern equivalent of believing our own hype). Especially if we only focus on our achievements and successes. Showing only our best side can create a false impression of who we are. I don’t know if we call that a “mask” or not, but I’m going Sisella Bok’s definitions and calling that a lie. I am my doubts, fears and uncertainties as much as I am my accolades, convictions, and successes.

Transparency seems a far more honest and attractive option, but carries with it some real practical complications. Not least of which, for me, is the question of time and interest. How much time does it take to put “all” of my life online and who, in all honesty, is interested in that much detail? If I don’t get on and live life, then what sort of a life will I have to put online?

For me, as a blogger, this is fundamental – Who reads this blog? Why? What do they want from it?

Moreover, life teaches us that even our best friends are only interested in a few aspects of our lives. I have friends who love to talk about sport and politics but won’t go near “religion.” Others who only want to talk about issues of faith. Some friends love golf. Others hate it. Amazingly I even have friends who are not into modern art or football! What does transparency mean when we admit our interest in each other is only partial?

Authenticity and Honesty

That’s why authenticity and honesty are so important. How does this incomplete picture relate to the complete me? Is total transparency the goal? Is it enough to seek to be honest about who we are? Can we trust that the “truth” of us is evident in the composite of our interactions and relationships? Are we the sum of our social parts?

I believe authenticity does the work transparency never could.

Which brings me back to putting my ambitions online. The fact that I can’t bring myself to write a set of targets like Jason’s reflects my life is right now. If anything, it would be disingenuous to do so. But, there is no reason why I can’t make public some intermediate goals, the things are currently on my project lists. In showing you what I am focussed on right now I’m giving you as much insight into my future as I honesty have myself.

Responses
Jason Clark 13 years ago

Thanks Fernando. Your post here made me wonder how much of life is ‘image management’, within the consumer/commodification milieu that we live in? Am I truly honest, even in what I wrote?

John Smulo 13 years ago

I appreciate your thoughts here. This is something I’ve wrestled and continue to wrestle with. I think the more our everyday “in-person” lives and virtual lives intertwine the more complex this becomes.

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Jason – I don’t want to cynical but it’s a great deal of ministry in the evangelical world theses days about image management and PR? I’m not advocating an “I’ve had a bad week and now I’m going to cry” approach to leadership, but surely a big part of our malaise is that we’ve modelled image management from one generation to the next?

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

John – I recall towards the end of my time at college I was strongly advised by senior staff and mentors not to put anything online. At the time I was creating a small website for a philosophy of religion conversation group and a page full of links to academic research. It seemed a very odd piece of advice. Even back in ’97 that the net was going to become a significant place for personal publication.

I also wondered at the time, and feel convinced now of the fact that, the people giving the advice didn’t like the potential of the net to erode their power or place of privilege.

Now our identity is more complex as a result of having such large and diverse networks. The net just speeds that up. I’m a firm believer that we gain a lot of our self-identity through the eyes of others. The more eyes we have upon us, the more complex the picture becomes. We can either retreat into ourselves or our work, or develop ways to evaluate those eyes. The former disconnects us from community and the later is a critical thinking task. I wonder if the people who have that advice also feared the many eyes and critical thinking that goes with creating an identity on the net?

Paul 13 years ago

well you’ve admitted to wearing cardigans, not sure where you can go from there in being shockingly honest 😉

I’ve struggled to articulate any goals for awhile now, not cos I don’t have any but the timelines to them seem so vague and the likelihood of achieving them depending on other people and appropriate sets of circumstance, of which i feel i have very little control over or ability to influence.

Plus it just gets me angry and frustrated to set myself goals and then not be able to achieve what i want when i want.

But i have set myself one goal – being able to run a marathon next year. It’s achievable and it gives me a motivation to go out running and thus keep my weight down to an acceptable social spare tire and sweat profusely in public 🙂

Fernando Gros 13 years ago

Real theologians wear cardigans is my rallying cry. It might be a very bad rallying cry, but still.

I hear what you are saying about the consequences of setting goals and not hitting them. Anger and frustration are one consequence, guilt is another one!

That said, a marathon is a pretty big goal and one that I suspect might supervene on a lot of other aspects of life.

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