Technology guru Jamon Lanier aptly compares the current social-media culture to Eastern Europe during the Cold War - people tend to put on a "public face" when posting to Facebook or Twitter, and then live their "real life" in a sort of underground, unrecorded and not shared.
More specifically, when posting something in social media, we're saying in effect, "See how wonderful I am? See how great my life is?" We point out our clever insights, how many friends we have and how popular we are, and even hint at - if not boldly proclaim - our sexual attractiveness.
What doesn't get discussed nearly as much are the social failures we experience, the date that went poorly, the dinner party to which no one showed up, the rejections we encounter on a daily basis. We don't talk about our timidity or our cowardice, about the realization of the increasing deterioration of our bodies as we age. The closest these things get to ever being discussed are usually in the form of witty, self-depreciating anecdotes, where the humor and wisdom are intended to outweigh the fault being discussed.
In other words, it's all mostly just a charade, a mask worn by people to hide behind, an idealization of how we want to be, but not who we actually are.
This blog is no exception. It's easy to cut and paste the sayings of the Zen Masters and the patriarchs of the past, as if they have some sort of special meaning to me. It's easy to blog about an exciting night of live music that I might have observed, and not bother to mention the other evenings spent on the sofa watching television, or mindlessly doodling on the computer. I can re-tell or re-spin any story I choose here in order to present myself in the best possible light. The Shokai character that this blog purports to depict, the so-called "typical 50-something single Zen Buddhist living in Atlanta," may not be someone you would recognize if you actually knew me.
Of course, we can't hide completely. Even the choice of what charade we choose, which mask we wear, and how we decide to portray our "selves," says a lot about our values. A woman I know "friended" me on Facebook, and her updates, of which she posts quite a few every day, all show her at parties with attractive, younger people, at suburban swimming pools in the strong arms of some hunky guy, or out with a large group of friends at some nightclub or another. Her life, it would seem, is a big, happy, non-stop party, a real-life episode straight out of Sex and the City. What doesn't seem to get mentioned is the pain and grief she must have experienced as a result of her recent divorce, her awareness of her own mortality, or any hint of menopausal regret over never having children (or of menopause at all for that matter).
Zen Master Dogen said that we should keep our good deeds to ourselves and publicly admit our wrong-doings. His rationale was that good deeds done for the sake of our own fame and glory aren't really all that "good" - they're self-serving activities to inflate our egos or our reputations. Meanwhile, if we publicly confess of our wrong-doings, we will repent and soon correct our ways. I admit Dogen's advise is generally not followed here, or in the larger blogosphere in general.
Rather than bring us closer together, it seems, social media has created just another layer of artifice, another mask we present to the world, and behind these masks, I suspect, we're even lonelier than before.