Saturday, February 27, 2010

Seinfeld, Facebook and a Self Divided

George Costanza could never be on Facebook.  One of my favorite moments with George on Seinfeld is when he talks about how he cannot have the George he is with his fiance -- Relationship George -- come into contact with the George he is with Jerry and friends -- Independent George. "A George divided against himself," he proclaims, "cannot stand!" To have his worlds collide would cause a catastrophic explosion in George's estimation, killing Independent George.

One of my relatives is feeling the same way about Facebook.  She has decided to remove herself from it because of her discomfort with the access she has to people's lives.  Being only a few clicks away from knowing specific details about the lives of perfect strangers is disconcerting to her.  Plus, she is not thrilled about her work "friends" mingling with her church "friends" -- these are spheres of her life she'd rather keep separate. This is one of many reasons why I probably will never see my mom on Facebook.  The thought of acquaintances from thirty years ago traipsing through her page and seeing pictures of her and her family turns her stomach. Although the benefits are certainly there, she would not want to sacrifice her privacy for them. I respect these attitudes and understand how this change in how people interact with one another can be disturbing for those who have been able to experience privacy through most of their days.

Even though some people might turn away from social networking, with Facebook boasting millions of members, it is quite likely that each of us will eventually face these issues and have to find some kind of harmony among the spheres of our lives.  Easy access and the addictive fascination with social networking make separating these various spheres of our lives very difficult. Is this going to result in more authenticity?  We are losing the divide between public and private; will we be left with truth?

Somehow, I doubt it.  In fact, the ease with which we can create an online persona and the lure of being something online that we are not in real life may prove to be too strong.  Having lived in a world without status updates and profile pics, I am able to see how the way we present ourselves to the world has changed with technology.  My students, however, have never existed in a world without a digital thread.  Because of this, I believe my students will have an even more difficult time discovering their unique voices and sense of self. By trying to capture who they are in an "About Me" page and not having space to privately explore their identities, their vision of who they are must experience levels of distortion more profound than what adolescents have experienced in the past. For me, this is even more support for why I need to think carefully about how I interact with my students both in the real world and in the online universe. 

As a teacher, I have always felt the tug-of-war between home life and school life. How much of my personal self do I share with those whom I teach?  On an educator's list-serve I subscribe to, a recent hot topic has been teachers who are reprimanded, suspended or even fired for controversial postings to social networks.These are situations where the teacher is engaged in legal, but what some feel is questionable activity, such as drinking with friends or hugging a stripper. Some feel consequences are necessary, while others believe that what a teacher does on her private time is her own business as long as it is legal.  Should teachers be held to a standard that is different than what those in other professions may have?  Does being a teacher have to play a role in how I behave and define myself in my private life?  Does a private life actually exist anymore?

Ultimately for me, the question becomes, what message am I sending to my students with my behavior? What choices am I making and what values do those choices represent? I am careful about what I write on Facebook, what pictures are posted and what cyber-trail I am leaving. I do not live my life in fear of what others may find, but instead try to be conscious of the online image I am crafting of myself and ensuring that it is in harmony with the person I strive to be in the real world.  When 120 teenagers look to the front of a classroom each day and see me, I want them to find more than someone who knows how to write a compound sentence; I want them to see someone who models for them a way to live.

I am not Teacher Stephanie and Independent Stephanie, selves divided who cannot co-exit.  I am just Stephanie, trying to live without fear of colliding with myself, trying to live a life of truth.

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