Without the ability to find out how their identity is ricocheting around the virtual world, people often feel a fight-or-flight response when they’ve been online for many hours—and even after they’ve logged off.
“It’s kind of an adapted hyper-vigilance. As soon as you send something out into the virtual world, you’re sort of sitting on pins and needles waiting for a response,” Lembke says. “That alone—that kind of expectancy—is a state of hyperarousal. How will people respond to this? When will they respond? What will they say?”
It would be one thing if only you saw any negative reactions, Lembke says, but they’re often available for everyone to see. She says this exacerbates feelings of shame and self-loathing that are already “endemic” in the modern world.
We are social creatures, and our brains evolved to form communities, communicate with each other, and work together.
I think most of this anxiety has to do with whether or not you live in reality, have friends, community and a solid sense of self with the ability to self-validate, and whether or not you have over-arching positive purpose to your life. If you are not contributing, then it would be best to live in the cave.
I have over-arching purpose to what I do online. One purpose is to learn. Another purpose is to laugh. Another purpose is to stay in touch with friends and family. Another purpose is to make money. Another purpose is thinking socially. At age 56, I realize that when I just go off on my own with an intellectual fixation, it’s often divorced from reality. I’m not unique here. We are evolutionarily adapted to being extraordinarily good at seeing through other people’s attempts to manipulate us and we tend to be terrible at evaluating our own thinking (excessive self-confidence is adaptive because it holds the feeling of insignificance at bay). So when an idea grabs me, I want to talk about it, and the more smart people I can talk to, the more wisdom I get. I think better when I think socially. Because I have an ego and I don’t want to get unnecessarily humiliated online, I try to think things through reasonably and responsibly and then I listen carefully to the feedback I receive.
I like to explore dissident ideas that the MSM reflexively dismisses and demeans. This is one way I feel significant. I have a niche and I do it well. I like to discuss the forbidden without being reflexively pro or con. I have no sacred cows (though I do have interests in addition to values and these interests and values shape my choices online and off). My audience seems to be about 80% dissidents and I think they appreciate that I neither loathe them nor snow them. I’m not a pundit nor a syndicated radio host who makes his living telling people what they want to hear. I’m not a populist. I don’t believe that wisdom resides with the people. I’m not an elitist either. I don’t believe wisdom resides with the elite. I don’t believe any group or class is consistently wise. I believe both sides of the political spectrum are normal natural reflections of evolutionary adaptations. In some situations, the conservative approach is more adaptive, and in other situations, a more radical approach is more adaptive.
I think about what I say publicly, and I try to say it in ways that people can hear me without getting unnecessarily hurt. Since I started blogging in 1997, I’ve had a sense that I want to keep at least 51% of my audience on my side.
Wired says: “Constantly posting content on social media can erode your privacy—and sense of self.”
So one needs to use good judgment about what one shares, whether online or off. The more important someone is to me, the more reluctant I am to talk about them publicly or privately. For example, when good friends of mine get gossiped about, I rarely defend them because it doesn’t do any good and I don’t want to reveal too much of myself. If I really like a woman, I rarely talk about her. I have a few intense friendships and I don’t usually discuss them. In Judaism, the more sacred something is, such as a Torah scroll, the more protection it generally enjoys.
People who constantly post online seem to lack a sense of self. There’s an air of desperation about their production. They need other people to tell them who they are. On the other hand, there are great scholars such as Marc B. Shapiro who post many videos online and I don’t see anything dysfunctional there.
Wired says: “TO BE ONLINE is to be constantly exposed.”
It depends upon what you are exposing. If you are exposing the rabbinic response to the rise of Reform Judaism, I don’t see a lot of downsides.
Wired says: “It can sometimes feel like the whole world has its eyes on you.”
Then you are doing it wrong and you need to step away. This problem is but a symptom of a deeper problem.
Wired: “Being observed by so many people appears to have significant psychological effects.”
Exposure is not for everyone whether it is online or off. Some people are better off with a low-key moderately paying job than a high-stress high visibility job.
Wired: “He says people are receiving dozens of notifications every day and that they often feel they can’t escape their online lives.”
I rarely experience this because I have my notifications turned off. I also don’t suffer from the delusion that everyone is checking out what I say online. At the same time, when I speak online, I try to have in mind that anyone I come in contact with may have tuned in to me. I know it is unlikely to be true, but I find it a reasonable and responsible attitude for my online production. I like the idea that everyone knows everything. I find it sobering and it helps me to make better decisions. There’s not much in my life that I’m hiding and so I don’t usually feel great anxiety posting online.
Wired: “Even when you’re not on the screens, the screens are in your head.”
Yes. Even when you’re not playing golf, golf can be in your head. Even when you’re not having sex, sex can be in your head. Even when you’re not looking at porn, porn might be in your head. Even when you’re not at work, work might be in your head. Even when you’re not facing your rabbi, your rabbi’s face might be in your head. We are porous (in the traditional view). We’re not buffered autonomous strategic agents driven by our reason (the liberal view).
Everything we do affects us. The online world is as real as any other part of our life. How you conduct yourself online will feed back into your regular life just as how you conduct yourself at work will affect how you speak online.
I have a dozen 12-step sponsees. Even when I am not directly working with them, I carry a sense of them with me through my day. I ask myself before taking an action, “How would my sponsees feel about this? Would this look like recovery to them? Would members of my community see this as a good thing?” I have an infinite ability to fool myself, but fooling a community is more difficult.
Wired: “One value of privacy is that it gives us space to operate without judgment. When we’re using social media, there are often a lot of strangers viewing our content, liking it, commenting on it, and sharing it with their own communities. Any time we post something online, thus exposing a part of who we are, we don’t fully know how we’re being received in the virtual world. Fallon Goodman, an assistant professor of psychology at George Washington University, says not knowing what kind of impression you’re making online can cause stress and anxiety.”
Yes, we all need privacy. Over-sharing is usually maladaptive. There need to be sacred spaces.
Wired: ““When you post a picture, the only real data you get are people’s likes and comments. That’s not necessarily a true indication of what the world feels about your picture or your post,” Goodman says. “Now you’ve put yourself out there—in a semi-permanent way—and you have limited information about how that was received, so you have limited information about the evaluations people are making about you.””
If you live in reality, you’ll likely have a fairly accurate understanding of how your picture was received.
Wired: “we construct our identities through how we’re seen by others. Much of that identity is now formed on the internet, and that can be difficult to grapple with.”
Yes, so you have to pay attention to shifting social norms. What was acceptable to say one year is unacceptable the next year. Also, you need to pay attention to who you value. The five people closest to us are going to be a fairly accurate reflection of ourselves. If you have five people who love you, the opinions of strangers won’t matter as much.
Wired: “This virtual identity is a composition of all of these online interactions that we have. It is a very vulnerable identity because it exists in cyberspace. In a weird kind of way we don’t have control over it. We’re very exposed.”
We’re very exposed off-line as well as online. The world is a more dangerous place than we think. And we’ve never had the power to control what other people think of us. Our reputations do not belong to us because they reside in the minds of others.
Wired: “Without the ability to find out how their identity is ricocheting around the virtual world, people often feel a fight-or-flight response when they’ve been online for many hours—and even after they’ve logged off.”
The more solid your off-line identity, the less vulnerable you’ll be to the opinions of strangers. If you are furiously building a false identity online to feel important, that’s a symptom of a deeper problem — a lack of self.
Wired: “It’s kind of an adapted hyper-vigilance. As soon as you send something out into the virtual world, you’re sort of sitting on pins and needles waiting for a response. That alone—that kind of expectancy—is a state of hyperarousal. How will people respond to this? When will they respond? What will they say?”
The more solid my off-line life, the less I experience this. On the other hand, sometimes I feel apathetic and the easiest way for me to get aroused is to post something. Knowing the dangers of posting online, I’m incentivized to do this carefully. The danger gives me a burst of adrenaline, a shot of power and agency, and I think I usually do more good than harm with these efforts.
Wired: “We are social creatures, and our brains evolved to form communities, communicate with each other, and work together. We have not evolved to expose ourselves to the judgment of the whole world on a daily basis. These things affect everyone differently, but it’s clear many people regularly feel overwhelmed by this exposure level.”
Sometimes we benefit from more exposure and sometimes we benefit from less. Whatever level of exposure you choose, it will come with a price. There’s no right or wrong answer here. There are only trade-offs.
I’ve been blogging since 1997 and livestreaming since 2015. It seems to me that more than 90% of the people I’ve interviewed for my blog have not regretted it, while most people who’ve come on my livestreams would be better off with less exposure, and only a few guests would benefit from more exposure. On the other hand, I notice people are more likely to get into trouble for what they write rather than for what they say on a stream.
I enjoy swimming in the ocean, but it’s not for everyone. I enjoy public speaking, but it’s not for everyone. Most people would happily go their entire lives without ever giving a speech.
Incidentally, most of the time I am online, I am not posting anything. I am just working, learning and enjoying.
The best book I’ve read on this topic is Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality by Elias Aboujaoude, a psychiatrist in Silicon Valley.