Practising modesty in the digital Eye of Sauron
I agree. I broke the habit of sharing cute family moments on social media almost 3 years ago. I wasn’t making any money off it; it was purely to share with family, friends and acquaintances and experience their attention and approval, through love emojis etc. But doing such a thing regularly creates a performative perspective: the awareness of an audience absolutely does creep into the intimate moments. It took me months after quitting to stop thinking in “Facebook updates” Occasionally, one will still pop into my head. But I no longer feel any desire to share my private life on this performative way, and on the rare occasions I do make a Facebook post it’s with a great deal of thought and even anxiety: the dopamine rush is gone.
The other side of this is I do feel a desire to be visible, to be connected, ti take risks and be part of a larger discourse. But this desire predates social media and having ceased creating social media content, I can seek to better understand it. For me, writing more thoughtful, rare, and lengthy posts on my blogs feels more authentic. They don’t get anything like the attention my Facebook posts did, but then if I’m honest with myself, nobody owes me their attention. I’m not that special. A few people have said they miss my Facebook presence, but the ones that really care, can get ahold of me other ways. If they don’t want to, then I don’t need to be there for their entertainment (as the song says LOL).
As a teacher of 13/14 yos, I can see the impact of this on the development of kids. No more are the boundaries between ... well anything. They have no concept of the division between home and school, formal or informal, appropriate or inappropriate. All lines have been blurred (thanks post moderns). A student shared the other day that he had to fart. First time in my career for that; also for kids mocking me - while I'm right there! They all think they're little social media stars.
Growing up in an age where nothing is private, nothing is sacred, nothing is not worth sharing, please get me a time machine. I'm just grateful for memories.
I honestly do not understand the human need for attention, this constant, whining, overwhelming need some humans have for attention. Non-stop attention.
This was such a timely article for me. I set out to write about my sons’ journey in autism and disability, because it is becoming such a crushing wave of disability in our youngest generation, but I have stalled time and time again because there’s a line between maintaining the dignity of the people involved and telling the raw, unpretty truth of the reality of this condition.
I quit following mommy influencers some years ago. And even the special needs ones often stray into the unrealistic realm, which contributes to a fantasy sheen on this world that is pretty much a lie.
But words need to be said. Stories need to be told. Thank you for the food for thought.
A related term to "modesty" is "chastity", and while it is commonly understood as an absence of sexual activity, it actually means much more. The Church Slavonic word for "chastity" is "tselomudrie", meaning something like "whole-wiseness" or "wise-wholeness" (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D1%86%D0%B5%D0%BB%D0%BE%D0%BC%D1%83%D0%B4%D1%80%D0%B8%D0%B5). I think it is so important to remember that unrestrained sharing, especially on social media, fractures us internally as well as externally. To take Mary's example, if you're carving a pumpkin with your child and thinking about how you will post about it later on, you're fractured - part of you is not with your child.
Thank you for this post, Mary, it's a reminder for me to keep trying to hold myself whole and wise in the face of the constant onslaught of the internet (where one does find gems such as Mary's substack, otherwise I would have quit it all years ago!).
"Digital modesty is a general disposition: an effort, however difficult it is in practice, to avoid any form of online self-presentation that veers into spectacle."
Goodness, Mary, I am very grateful for this post and these words.
I'm not an Instagram influencer, and my substack has only about 40 followers. My writing style leans more toward the ensouling language ethic, which I learned from many friends in the mythopoetic community, and Stephen Harod Buhner. I love this way of writing because I am constantly being asked by the world to write from my heart, soul, spirit, and my deep connection to the animate world.
I'm also a poet, and I just can't write poetry in the abstract, it has to come from my deep feminine feelings.
However, I do appreciate the call for modesty and greater discernment here on what I share.
One of the things that has been most painful for me in my own family system and cultural wounding, is feeling like a spectacle. This spectacleness, and it's conditioning, begins very early for most people in dominant culture. It's been going on far beyond our digital age, but I do feel the ways it has deeply increased with the cyberborg social media realm. It reminds me of the book Simulations by Jean Baudrillard- all the ways we've turned people and things into museums and things to look at, rather than sacred beings.
When I was young the kind of modesty you're talking of was the norm, at least it was in Britain. Divulging personal information, other than to one's most intimate family and friends (and not necessarily even then) was 'just not the done thing'.
There is no freedom without privacy. Privacy and modesty as you describe are very closely linked. And I think you're right to worry about the effects of over-sharing on relationships and our loved ones. I've seen it in real life, kids growing up with a warped sense of identity. Everything is a performance, and that's just ordinary people, not influences. Grim.
And astute observation that can be broadened into many areas of feminism in general and Modern Life specifically. The Ancients understood the importance of the secret of the veiled of the Hidden. The feminine was always the place where this occurred. The modern world wants parades and metals and accolades but the ancient world understood that true power and manipulation comes from the hidden. There is no story in antiquity or ancient religious literature that doesn't involve the feminine in the background manipulating guiding and controlling the situation. Perhaps that's just literary trope but I don't think so. The feminine has given its power away to the machine and we can only hope that at some point it will be Discover it.
On the topic of divorce, maybe another reason I’ve soured on cute social media posts and photos is that these in no way seem to predict whether a marriage will last or indeed whether a person is at all a decent human being.
I love this idea. I definitely do have the same rules of not placing my family on social media but maybe sharing an outing with friends. Not everything is meant to be shared. Some things are sacred and should be kept close to the chest.
I definitely do need to ponder what is mine to share and what moments aren't fully mine to share.
Your key phrase: "extend[ing] the logic of the market ever further into the human heart...."
The logic of the market. We all sell something for our livelihood. (If you're not buying something directly, on the internet, then as they say, YOU are the product.)
Mary, you sell ideas and insight and arguments.
Many others sell THEMSELVES, to one extent or the other—an interesting or appealing life, even a lifestyle to emulate. What do we call it, again, when we sell ourselves, our bodies, our intimacy...?
We face two spheres of life that have now long violated all normal boundaries: the market and the state. I look forward to models that circumvent and disempower these. We have to say No.
Ditto Ditto Ditto! I thank God for Mary Harrington and her platform. Until I discovered her work I had started to believe I had gone off the rails. I have never known anyone who connected the same dots as I have on so many issues. Once again -I am grateful. And have a renewed courage to engage where I can. Thank you.
Real life Truman (true man) Shows.
I love this idea. The term “digital modesty” is so perfect.
When my son was born my husband and I agreed I wouldn’t share photos of him on social media. But now that he is old enough to be interested by the iPhone I find myself taking fewer and fewer pictures at all, because I don’t want the device to be around. And this practice has broken me of a lingering “I need to document this” attitude which has let me live more deeply in the present. I feel bad sometimes that I don’t have a lot of photos and video to share with grandparents, but I think ultimately this will be healthier for all of us.
When a person is isolated for a length of time, they go crazy. When a group of two people is formed, they vie for supremacy. Sharing your personal life for online affirmation and power is vying for supremacy, feminine style. There is no end to the maw. As Siochana says below, "But doing such a thing regularly creates a performative perspective".