The Medium of Connection

Last weekend, I published a very personal piece on this site that I was very reluctant to call a “piece.” After I posted it to Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, it got a bit of praise, and had touched more than a few people (for which I’m grateful).

I had trouble accepting praise for this one, though, for the same reason I hesitated to call it a piece: it wasn’t edited, wasn’t structured, and there was no goal. I didn’t, like in other pieces, write with the intention of informing, of educating, of entertaining, even. I didn’t write what was in my head; I wrote what was in my heart. For that reason, many commented on the courage it took to write the piece, how brave I was for making myself so vulnerable.

The thing is, I didn’t feel vulnerable. I certainly didn’t feel courageous. Perhaps that’s because I’d done this before, so it wasn’t new territory, wasn’t my first rodeo, as they say. I’d put myself out there before, had revealed pieces of myself that I never thought would be lain bare. Ironically, these are things that I don’t talk about, even with those I love. Most people who know me will tell you that I listen far more than I talk, and when I talk, it’s rare that I delve into the vulnerable parts of me that, lately, have been making their way into the wide world through this very medium.

That, initially, struck me as odd. Why would I reveal more to the general public than to those closest to me?

Part of the answer lies in the simple fact that I’m a writer, and so the best parts of me will come out as written words- the lesser parts of me are what’s left for those around me (sorry about that).

While that answer begins to tell the story, it doesn’t tell it all. A complete answer would have to explore the medium that entices me into bearing all, the medium on which you’re reading these words. Last week’s “piece” felt and read much more like a journal entry than a blog post, and before the internet, that’s the way it would’ve been written: on a piece of actual paper in a notebook or a journal, never to be seen by anyone.

The web, though, is changing us. It’s changing me. Like so many other significant cultural shifts, it’s happening so slowly that we barely recognize it, even while it’s being talked about incessantly. When we back up and take a look at the aggregate data, patterns emerge, but it’s infinitely harder to see the underlying currents of that change that are happening somewhere deep inside of our very selves.

That current is shifting towards the new normal, towards a world of increasing vulnerability. Part of the shift is due to the undeniable anonymity the web affords us, even when we use outlets that our name and identity are attached to: it’s much easier to be vulnerable in a tweet or blog post than to reveal ourselves face-to-face, even—especially—to those we’re closest to.

That’s human nature, and if life has taught me anything, it’s to work with, not against, human nature.

Even Facebook, normally an outlet so filled with meaningless memes, outright falsehoods, and utter garbage that I cringe every time I open my newsfeed, is beginning to facilitate this change. Yesterday, I saw a post at the top of my feed in which a friend declared her “number,” then listed a series of things which no one knew about her. The list was candid, truthful, a bit vulnerable, and a bit beautiful. Others followed, and, as far as I know, this “quiz” is still making the rounds on Facebook. To reiterate: there is a beautiful thing happening on Facebook.

That thing is happening for the same reason it’s beautiful: it strikes at and speaks to the core of who we are and what we want. We want to be more vulnerable. We want to reveal more about ourselves. That’s the only way real connection happens, after all. It’s why literature, and perhaps anything that can be called art, exists. No meaningful relationship between two or a hundred people ever came about as a result of closing ourselves off, and that’s the thing we strive for: meaningful connection. It’s at the heart of nearly ever desire. It’s no surprise, then, that a medium that facilitates that desire has so completely permeated our culture. The web may have begun as a way to share academic documents, and it may sometimes resemble a cesspool of trolling and kittens and linkbait, but its evolution is marching steadily towards reconciling itself with the thing humans most strive for: vulnerability and connection.

Readers and friends alike have emailed me to ask about whether or not they should write. Of course, they wouldn’t be asking if they didn’t want to, so they were essentially seeking justification from a “writer” to begin writing. And to all those, here is my answer:

Write. Start with a secret journal or a private online blog. It truly doesn’t matter what you write about; write about any damn thing you please, or, better yet, write about nothing at all. The point is simply to erect a bridge between your mind and a medium (the paper or the keyboard). Do so often enough and your thoughts will travel that bridge often, will get a chance to stretch their legs, to leave the dark confines of your mind for a few minutes.

Then, when you’re comfortable (not before), start writing in public. Let us into those dark corners, because we want to know your fears, your reservations, your absurd dreams. It’s those things that we can connect with, and, as I said, all we want is connection.