I'm a millennial. An old one, but still a millennial. You know what the world says about us? Self-absorbed, entitled, unreasonable expectations, can't keep our noses out of our iPhones.
You know what else we do? We take pictures of our food. Of our cats. Of our walk to work. We take a lot of selfies. NYTimes calls us the #selfiegeneration. We also use a lot of #hashtags. Basically, what I'm getting at here, is that we spend a ton of time on social media--Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Snapchat, Instagram... We post pictures of ourselves and our food, of our cats and our kids, of the changing seasons and our favourite funny quotes and memes from the internet. We spend hours every week crafting a version of ourselves that we want to share with others--a personal brand, they call it.
I remember when Facebook was invented, but there are many millennials who don't. And if you aren't a millennial, you probably weren't allowed to join right away. Originally, Facebook was only for college students. You had to have a .edu email address to join, and if you were a lucky teenager, like Josh, you could join because you went to a fancy high school that provided email addresses to its students.
When I first joined Facebook, I had no idea what to post.
Back then, the prompt for posting was, "Ariele Sieling is..." and you were supposed to write something like, "Ariele Sieling is doing homework now."
So I filled it in with wonderful things like:
- "is eating frozen peas."
- "is not eating frozen peas."
- "is punchier than a mad raccoon."
- "is not quite as punchy as a mad raccoon."
- "is homeworkhomeworkhomeworkhomeworkhomeworkhomeworkhomeworkhom..."
- "is eating ANIMAL CRACKERS!!!!!"
- "is not eating animal crackers anymore :("
- "is somewhere in that little land of in between, where everything is made of butter."
Anyway, you get the drift. Real profound stuff.
Then, Facebook revolutionized the world again, by letting our parents join, and our grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and our little brothers and sisters, and our boss... and suddenly everyone could see what we were saying and posting, and they could see everything that we had ever said or posted, ever. This put us all in a rather dangerous position, so we started deleting and changing, and, well, you know--being more careful.
And then YouTube, and then Twitter, and then LinkedIn, and then Google+, and then Instagram, and then Snapchat, and countless other platforms joined the picture, each offering you a different way to share yourself with the world. So that's what we did: we shared ourselves with the world.
If you take a quick stroll through Facebook, you will no doubt see any variety of these people on your newsfeed:
- The always happy person
- The always sarcastic person
- The meme person
- The attention-seeker
- The non-millenial that doesn't understand how to use all caps
- The troll
- The selfie-aholic
- The philosopher
- The political activist (at least one for each party, including Libertarians, and then the ones that post only reliable articles, and the one that posts extremely unreliable articles, and then the one that posts blatant propaganda)
- The religious person that posts prayers or verses
- The stalker who never posts or comments, just looks and likes
- The new parent
- The not so new parent
- The just married/just engaged/just in a relationship person
- The college student
- The younger sibling/cousin/whatever
- The over-sharer
- The person that kind of shares, but doesn't actually provide any details
- The person that works out all the time
- The foodie
- The person running their own business
- The cat/dog/bird/pet owner
- The sharer/re-poster
- The fundraiser
- The artist
- The holiday lover
You know what sucks about those categories up there? For every category, there is a hater of that category. They say stuff like, "ugh I'm so sick of everyone I know on Facebook getting married and having babies!" or "I can't stand it when people spam me with their personal business. I have enough Tupperware and jewelry already!" or "I'm going to clean out my friends list. If you can read this, congratulations! I unfriended everyone who [fill in the blank with some arbitrary characteristic]." or "Why does everyone always post pictures of their food? I don't care!"
I'm guilty of this type of judgmental attitude myself sometimes--don't think I'm letting me off the hook.
Guess what happened next. Everyone began to screen their posts--they wanted to be balanced, but not too balanced (that person comes across as fake!), happy, but not too happy (they're clearly lying to make themselves look better!), accurate about their life, but not too accurate (we don't need to know about everything in your life that sucks!), detailed but not too detailed (we really don't care about all that stuff!), and on and on and on.
So we end up, today, trying too hard (or not hard enough!) to show the carefully crafted version of us that we want people to see.
I don't think there is anything wrong with that--and I don't think this attitude is different than the attitude of any other generation before us. In the old days they published things in newspapers, phoned their 25 closest friend when so-and-so's daughter got engaged, or sat out on the porch downtown to hear the latest news from passersby. It's just the medium that's different now.
But I also think that we (millennials, in case you forgot who I was talking about) have been placed in an incredibly unique position. We are able to see detailed versions of the lives of everyone we know, and quite a few people we don't know--while our brains are still developing. Not only that, but we don't have anyone else who can teach us, from experience, what the right response is--we have to figure it out for ourselves.
We have two ways to respond to the new era of self-branding: we can judge and belittle, put them down to make ourselves feel better; or we can recognize that there is always a bigger story, and as such, choose to view others with compassion and grace.
Because I don't know about you, but I don't put my whole story on the internet for everyone to see. I'm not Kim Kardashian, just Ariele. I pick and choose--I try to show the best version of me. But there's always a bigger story.
I'm hoping that we are a generation that looks for the bigger story, and accepts that there is one, even if we can't see it. I'm hoping that we strive to stay open-minded and big-hearted, learn to care about people even when Facebook doesn't tell all.
And I'm hoping that we choose to look at others through eyes that understand that we'll never understand the whole story but choose compassion and grace anyway, because, after all, we're all human together.
And meanwhile, I'll just keep typing out random combinations of letters and numbers and punctuation in my Facebook posts, in the hope that it means something to someone.