There is no doubt that digital technology has greatly enhanced our ability to share and connect with others. Whether it be email or social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, we are more connected than ever before. As the ease of connection has grown we have expanded our networks beyond the tradition inner circle of friends and family to include many ‘weak ties’, people we’ve met at networking events, people who found our profile online, people who’ve reached out to us and we felt obliged to accept their ‘friend’ request lest we hurt their feelings…people we would struggle to recognise on the street.*
*Professor Robin Dunbar famously determined that we can only maintain 150 meaningful relationships at any one time. This was termed ‘Dunbar’s number’ and has been shown to apply online in much the same way as it does in real life.
Sharing with an audience of people we don’t know well is impacting how we communicate. For some, it means sharing less on public platforms, unsure of who is listening and what people might think. For others, it’s carefully curating the content we post online to highlight the best parts of their life and work. And for a few, it is a genuine and meaningful opportunity to expand reach and impact.
But the real risk that lies within these expanded networks is that we stop caring as much. Rather than considering them as friends or acquaintances we start to think of them as an audience (either a personal or a professional one). We can still pinpoint close friends and relatives within that network, but when we consider them as a collective, the number of weak ties often outweighs the number of people whom we care deeply about…and we don’t have the capacity to care about them all.*
*The definition of care is ‘the provision of what is necessary’ and I don’t believe we can show true care for others without taking the time to understand their personal interests and needs.
And so just like an actor treats their audience different from their loved ones, we start doing the same. We play a part for our audience that is different from what we show in private. We seek approval…and we self promote.
The line between sharing and self promotion is a fine one. From the outside they appear much the same but the intent is so very different. Sharing is done from a position of generosity to help the people we care about. Self promotion is what we do to make people like us and remember us…and to confuse matters further, sharing will generally result in some element of self promotion, and self promotion always requires some form of sharing.*
*Case in point is this post. As much as possible, I’ve tried to write this from a position of generosity, to articulate a problem I see many of my peers dealing with and help them find a way past it. But if we are to assume for a moment that it achieves it’s objective, then there is also little doubt this post will also serve to promote me.
This fuzziness between sharing and self promotion is not just theoretical, it’s a problem I’ve been struggling with over the last few months.
About a year or so ago I started working with Mykel and Dave Dixon (aka The Dixon Effect) to produce a short video that articulates the motivation behind the work I do. It was based on an awesome video that they had done for a good friend of mine Dr Jason Fox, a video that beautifully captures his wonderful complexity and thoughtfulness.
I acknowledge that my willingness to fund the project was not altruistic, it was conceived of for promotional purposes…but along the way the intent changed. The original script was rewritten, Mykel composed new music and Dave reshot some of the video because I felt so uncomfortable with the self promoting elements in the first cut…so uncomfortable that I knew I wouldn’t be happy sharing the video once it was finished.*
*The final product is more a call to action about the choices we make with technology than it is about me. I wanted people to see that making smart choices (or any choice at all) about how we use our digital tools can improve balance and quality of life.
I received the revised video a month or two ago but have continued to struggle with how and when it is OK to share it.
This dilemma has meant that apart from one little airing on Facebook the video has spent most of its life sitting dormant on my hard drive.
So where does that leave us?
The fuzziness between sharing and self promotion means that only we can determine whether what we post online is done from a position of generosity or selfishness. The fuzziness also means that we will always be able to pretend to others (and ourselves) that one was really the other, but if we continue to operate from a position of selfishness we will ultimately devalue our networks, including the people in them that we genuinely care about.
So with that in mind, I’m sharing my video with you now in this post. I’m sharing it because I think it is a good example of the fuzziness that we are all grappling with when it comes to social media. I’m sharing it because regardless of the self promotion, I believe the message is an important one…
…and I’m sharing it because if you like the video and you find it valuable, well maybe you will like me just a little bit more as well.
This blog post has been syndicated to Medium. If you’d like to add comments or ideas, head over to this page.