For those who don’t know me, here’s a little information about my recent activities. Over the bank holiday weekend I took my family out to the park, went to a museum and also caught the new Avengers movie (for an unrepentant geek like me, it’s a fantastic film). At various points over those three days I found myself checking out Twitter and sometimes posting a short message or two about what I was up to, commenting perhaps on the great sporting events which were on offer or just RTing something random I found interesting or amusing.
Usually this activity was accompanied by a familiar discussion between my husband and I: who on earth is interested in any of that?
My other half has accepted that my online activity is something that professionally I get a lot out of. I am not as prolific a personal tweeter as some, but usually post something up a couple of times a day, and invariably these missives are work related. I have a small but growing network whom I swap thoughts, jokes and links with, and sometimes I also tweet about things in my life which take place outside of te regular 9-5. But should I? Should I be mixing the two in some strange life/work cocktail which results in a sore head and regrets, or should I instead invest in some bricks and mortar to build a bit of a chinese wall between them?
I had a boss many years ago who insisted that work and life should remain entirely separate. This was before the days of Twitter, before even the days of Facebook (yes, there was such a dark time in the not-too distant past, ask your grandparents about it if you’re under 25), so this was actually a little easier to do. She would rarely talk about what she had been up to at the weekend or on holiday, would leave any work drinks or meals early and wouldn’t even talk too much about what she’d seen on telly.
On the one hand (and the one I think she focussed) this added a certain dimension which helped her maintain a professional distance, and enabled her to keep all of her relationships with her team focussed on work outcomes rather than crossing over into situations where personal relationships could interfere negatively with these. Trying to discipline someone when you spent the last weekend drinking with them and putting the world to rights could prove difficult for some.
However, it also meant that it became very difficult to really build any sort of bond with her. With little outside the workplace to relate to we struggled to build any relationship, which made it difficult to really want to step up our work to the next level . We achieved of course, but there was always something missing.
Fast forward to more recent times and it actually seems to be a lot more difficult to draw these lines. Social media has given most people the opportunity to blow away the divide between personal and professional, even if they don’t fully realise it. With so many of us having Facebook and other social media accounts, each of us broadcasts our thoughts to the world on a constant basis. We share photos, moan about our families, describe our dramas in varying degrees of detail and shout from the rooftops how much we loved the last episode of Game of Thrones (seriously, check it out if you haven’t already).
For those who know how to look for them, these messages provide a range of information on which to base your understanding of another person. Shared interests have the chance to be explored, and areas of difference can either be teased out or studiously avoided. Every little bit of information helps us understand our peers and colleagues and what motivates them.
For example, through their Twitter updates I know that one of my colleagues is a keen footballer and puts together intricate and witty accounts of their local team’s exploits which are released every Monday afternoon. Another colleague is a firm (almost rabid) Labour supporter who campaigns online and off constantly, whilst a third enjoys miniature wargaming (despite not being a social recluse or feeling awkward about members of the opposite gender).
All of these things have helped us learn about each other (they have also seen what I’ve been posting, so it’s a two-way street), and have formed the basis for conversations big and small. They have helped us build friendships which otherwise would not have existed, and have contributed in no small way to us growing closer and more productive as a team.
Each time I post up something about my personal life on a feed which is primarily followed by those who are professional contacts, aquaintances and colleagues I wonder whether or not it is appropriate. Do they care about what my youngest just said to me (“My youngest just asked for ‘multi-brain’ instead of ‘multi-grain’ cereal; Kellogs need to fill that niche.”), or would they prefer me to stick to the latest White Paper responses? How about my friends and family – do they care about what I think about 9-5, or should I focus on the more important things in life (which incidentally are rarely ‘things’)?
And at the end of the day, who do I share things and thoughts for? I tweet and update my Facebook status and share videos and post photos because they are things which I want to share, not because I necessarily think others from various sections of people I know will be waiting upon my every word and will demand otherwise. I am not contractually obliged in any way to share one aspect of my life and not others, so why shouldn’t I just put it all out there in one go?
I have met others who have a range of anonymous accounts with which to comment on various topics. Before I go much further, yes I appreciate the irony of someone on this blog talking about commenting anonymously about anything, but I’m not sure this really does them much good. They have one account for their personal life, one for their professional life and at least one with which to comment on all those things which from any angle could be deemed controversial. Assuming that their comments aren’t libellous or trolling, why should these be kept separate from each other? They all originate from the same real person, so why not present them all with the same face?
That being said, there are things each of us would say on stage in front of hundreds of people and with the world’s cameras watching, and there are other things we would say in a small private meeting with friends and family. We each adopt different personas depending on who we are with, which is something which cannot be easily recitifed in the online world, where what we put out there under one name can be viewed by anyone else.
Managing our own digital footprints is something we are all just getting to grips with. Nobody has properly grown up in a world where social media is rife and a normal part of society as the technology is so new. Even those who began their adult lives at the same time that the social bubble began to float are only now 24 years old. We are all feeling out what the limits are, where the boundaries should be and how what we randomly comment on today will affect our lives in five, ten or fifty years. In the past it was only the very famous who had their every word and misdeed recorded for posterity; today we all live in this world where a mistweet or a wrong post can achieve global fame instantly, or at least cause simple rifts betwee colleagues very quickly.
Mark Twain once said that it was easier to tell the truth, as that way you never have to remember anything. It’s this quote which I have decided to live by with regards to my online presence; for me it translates to ‘don’t say anything that you wouldn’t be happy being attributed to you’. Whether it’s an opinion, a fact about your life or a link to yet another LOL-cat picture (curse you LOL-cats), if I wouldn’t be happy with anyone I knew knowing that I said or thought that then I won’t share it. I have a fairly wide interest range and set of contacts, so this leaves me with both a lot of room and a lot or pressure, but for the moment I plan to get it all out there and see what happens.
Yes, I know I might regret it at some point in the future, but looking back on it I’m sure I’ll share a fair few interesting status updates along the way.
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