“And then when I was nine…”

According to a recent story in USA Today, more and more people are disclosing what used to be considered very private and personal information via social media precisely because of social media. The example given was of a woman who posted the happy but early news of her pregnancy (too soon?) followed by the sad news of her miscarriage (too much?), both on Facebook. She claimed to have received considerable relief from the outpouring of comments from all of her ‘friends.’

I don’t doubt it. I’m a big sharer as well; that is on Facebook, Twitter and, in particular, this blog. I derive considerable satisfaction from (your) support, compassion or just plain laughing along to popular culture’s flotsam and jetsam.

But that’s not me in real life. I’m an introvert. I like reading, writing, running and fishing. You do the math. Before social media, I pretty much kept to myself. I had more acquaintances than friends and I didn’t communicate with my extended family on a regular basis. And I most certainly did not share personal information with anyone other than maybe my wife or shrink. Even then I held on to stuff. Still do.

We’ve all heard how the Internet is supposedly keeping us from real interaction with our fellows, intimacy with our loved ones, et-cetera… But for me it’s kind of the opposite; I find it easier to share online than I ever did and do in real life. As a writer and an introvert, blogging and micro-blogging are a godsend.

I know what you’re thinking: lots of nerdy introverts find relief on the Internet, some of them pathologically. And I agree that this can be a dangerous rabbit hole. We all have read those stories. Or know people…

That’s why I appreciated the USA Today story: because it went the other way. It showed a real ‘live’ benefit to socializing online, as opposed to yet another screed about the perils of Facebook.

Our personal and professional lives are merging like never before. Instead of placing our public and private personae into two distinct buckets, and trying to avoid spillover, we are rapidly becoming a mixture of both, spills be damned. The evidence is all around us. Athletes, heads of state, and CEO’s tweet about this, that and the other, some going too far, others not far enough. Popular culture demands both personae. Look at reality TV. Talk shows. Chat rooms. Comment strings. Everywhere you turn people are revealing their innermost selves, peeling back the onion: crying, fucking, working, playing, acting and being real…all at the same time. It’s all so all-inclusive.

I’m in. And even if I wasn’t and you’re not it’s still happening. The Internet and social media are forcing transparency. If you don’t open yourself up others will do it for you. In any industry, the most popular websites and blogs are the ones that make it their business to know other peoples’ business. Yes, the relentless self-disclosing can be embarrassing, infuriating and downright gross (see dong shots, see reality TV) but that’s the world we live in. As Bob Knight once said: “If rape is inevitable you might as well enjoy it.” He got hammered for the vulgar comment. Yet, he was prescient for making it.

What I like about ‘relentless transparency’ outweighs what I don’t. It forces us to lead one life as opposed to several. It forces us to be honest where we otherwise wouldn’t. The merger can be painful but the pain is revelatory. We might screw up. Lord knows I have: I’ve said too much; I’ve said to little. But so what? We learn. We become one.

Of course, corporations and advertisers are reluctant to participate. They want to control the message. But they no longer can. Transparency, like it or not, is the new reality. By definition, this means messaging has to become more honest as well, owning up to flaws and telling consumers the truth. Dominoes admitted their pizza was mediocre and told us what they were doing about it. That was their advertising campaign!

Good things happen. McDonalds starts selling salads. Kellogg’s uses whole grains. Cars go electric. And so on. And they make money doing it: A win-win. To paraphrase another ex-coach, Dennis Green: We want brands to be “who we think they are.” Like Apple. Like Nike. Those that send mixed messages pay a price. The stiff upper lips of bankers everywhere (and the brands they represent) quiver at the sight of evermore people occupying Wall Street.

A while back I stopped trying to separate my Linkedin profile from ‘me’ on Facebook. Now I more or less use Facebook for everything, spillage be damned! I Tweet personal content as much as professional. I can’t tell the difference. There is no difference.

Express yourself at your own peril

Writer at large, Tom Chiarella has an intriguing sidebar in the August issue of Esquire magazine, entitled “What Mad Men has taught me.” As we prepare for the show’s fourth season on AMC , I want to take a closer look at his commentary. Not so much to publicize the show or his remarks but to analyze them. And challenge them. He rightly claims the show has an ambiguous “moral center.” To be accurate he writes it has none. But he qualifies the remark by stating the show “is rife with lessons, public and private, cautionary and exemplary, and not just for white guys who secretly wish that all men wore hats.” While I think he’s being facetious and I know he’s being provocative, I’d like to challenge him on a couple of his points. They are as follows:

1) Don’t befriend the people who work below you. There is power in distance.

2) Don’t befriend the people who work above you. That way they will want you more than you need them.

3) Don’t ever tell anyone everything.

Basically, Chiarella is declaring self-disclosure a no-no in the office. He cites Don Draper’s adamant stance that “the past is the past” as epigram to the notion. Other cliché’s that fit would be “still waters run deep” or “always keep a stiff upper lip.” Stoicism is a virtue.

Most men, even those of us utterly unlike Don Draper, would believe there is wisdom in admiring, if not adhering to, the “strong silent type.” We’d like to think our fathers or their fathers were that way. We aspire to it, even if we fail doing so on a daily basis. That is why Don Draper is such a compelling character. Morally uncertain as he is, men nevertheless want to be him and, if the gossip magazines are correct, women most certainly want to be with him. He is the consummate anti-hero.

That’s Don Draper, the character. But what about us? I’m a creative director. I freely admit to failing the above three “rules” almost every day. I enjoy fraternizing with my “staff,” if staff is even the right word. And I look forward to friendly “face time” with management. In conversation with all parties, I self disclose. Christ, I’m doing it now in this fricking blog.

I understand this makes me vulnerable. But if at work I talk about relationship issues at home –it happens- will the listeners then have something on me? Does talking about my parent’s ancient divorce or my troubles with alcohol weaken me in the eyes of those above and below me? Are these subjects only weak men and silly women are allowed to talk about? Is not disclosing personal information a masculine virtue? In the world of Mad Men I know the answers. In real life I can’t abide. Can you?

I’d argue self-disclosure is preamble to creativity. We creatives are compelled to probe the human condition, be it ours or someone else’s well past the point of normal discourse. To do our jobs well we have to. This is why Don Draper does not exist in real life, thank God.

Recently, I wrote about various profound difficulties involving some people I care about. I shared with you my advice to them as they shared their dilemmas with me. Some of this took place in a professional environment and some of it didn’t. Of course I was discreet. But should we have all kept our mouths shut? Don Draper would have –except maybe when he was in the arms of his mistress or drunk at the club.

I do not want a mistress or to be drunk at the club. I do, however, want to relate to others as best I can. Those others are often fellow workers, above and below me. I am not one for small talk. I do not much care for rehashing golf scores. If we’re talking movies I want to know how the film made someone feel. A simple thumb up or down is not a conversation. In other words, the only way I can relate to others is by being emotionally honest.

Therefore, by Chiarella’s criteria, I am an abject failure as a man, at least as it pertains to my conduct at work. And so, it would seem, are the people who confided in me.

If Chiarella was not being glib (and even if he was), his “lessons” are something I worry and wonder about. A lot. In her philosophy of Objectivism, Ayn Rand rhapsodized about rare men who had zero interest in petty, emotional issues. I adored Rand (who didn’t?) until I realized I was a human being.

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