The View from Here
There are many reasons to make things and share them, to write and publish, to speak and record. So many reasons, most unknown; far be it from me to make assumptions about other peoples’ motivations.
But among them, amidst even the most altruistic, is the one that is most visible, pernicious, sticky. It’s the need for validation — or, perhaps more carefully put, the effort to prove one’s worth by accumulating the approval of others. We can measure that in any way we like — likes, shares, views, followers, subscribers, even dollars — but these are just units ultimately attempting to measure the same thing: worth.
I’m not free of this, of course. No one is — not completely. But we can be more free of it than we are bound. Everyone, after all, needs an answer to the question, “Do I matter?” And everyone will fall back upon a worldview from which to provide it. But the more the internet is one’s world, the more it will be their view. The first step to freedom from false measures of worth is distance.
I have noticed that I am most happy — with myself, with my circumstances, with the world — when I am most withdrawn. That’s just me. I’m an introvert. But there’s a principle there for everyone, which is that when you are alone, you get to provide your primary sources for what matters. It’s not someone else’s voice that moves you, it’s yours.
Engaging online, for me, is an activity. It’s not a default. I can’t be in that space all the time because the longer I am in it, the more it twists and manipulates how I see, how I think, how I feel.
Many years ago I took a trip to Austin, Texas. I stopped in to a large boot shop — a place a friend had said I “must” see. It was a spectacle. Thousands and thousands of cowboy style boots lined floor-to-ceiling shelves in rows that seemed to go on forever. I entered that store a person who would never wear cowboy boots. But after a few minutes, I noticed that I began thinking strange things like, “well, if I were to wear cowboy boots, these aren’t so bad” and “oh these are obviously superior to those,” and finally, “now THESE are lovely!” On the one hand, this is evidence of an open mind. I was willingly absorbed by something new and it was changing me. But on the other hand, I knew myself well enough to keep my wallet in my pocket. Had I given in to the worldview of the boot store, I would own cowboy boots but I would not wear them. Within seconds of leaving the building I looked down at the shoes I’d worn in and I was satisfied.
For me, being online is like that.
If I want to stay me, I can’t be there all the time. But if I want to grow, I can’t be disconnected forever. The balance has to be right.
If I let it, the internet will provide a worldview for me. I have to stay where I know that it’s me looking out from within, not the other way around.
I make things because I enjoy making them. I share them when I have a sense that those things are exactly the sort that would inspire me had I not made them myself. This is not the way to build a large audience, to achieve fame, or to amass wealth. But it is the way to be seen (a very different thing from being validated) that also creates a way for someone else.
The best thing that could happen when I share something online is for someone else to experience it and think, “If he can do that, then I can __________.”