Tuesday, October 30, 2007

On Happiness: The people we "know"

I was scrolling through one of the blogs I check for work and came across an article about our on-line lives. Everyone is writing about this phenomenon these days – how we have re-invented ourselves through personal pages like Facebook or in virtual worlds like Second Life. I’m kind of tired of hearing about it in all honesty. I like my Facebook page because it helps long-lost friends find me and keeps me from creating long-lost friends in the first place. I’m not home in front of my computer pining away for my “avatar persona.”

I must have been feeling particularly less “know-it-all”-ey than usual because I kept reading the blog entry and stopped to consider its sentiment when the author said how much he appreciated these on-line personal tools because it allowed him to curate his life, the way museum designers curate the lives of famous, and sometimes not-so-famous, artists. I loved that idea. These sharing-tools allow you to create an on-line, multi-dimensional gallery celebrating you. I was feeling better already and kept reading.

The author of the entry then goes on to talk about how “being acquainted with” someone now has a completely different meaning as a result of these sharing platforms. My boss continually uses the line “Do you know (insert name of famous published innovator)?” I always thought this was a little odd – clearly Bob thinks I am a bigger fish than I actually am if he thinks I would know these people. Now I realize what he was saying is “are you acquainted with….”, meaning do you know what their interests and areas of research are? Have you read their books? Do you have a sense of who he or she is without ever meeting?

As a result of my job, I spend a lot of time on-line watching presentations from people like Chris Andersen and Malcolm Gladwell. Thanks to technology and the increasing desire to share insights with a wide audience, many presentations at conferences are not offered up for free after, and sometimes during, the events. Technology has allowed me to know Malcolm, without ever having met him.

This got me to wondering who knows me without ever meeting me. Who is acquainted with me because they read this blog or my facebook page or the other writing I do for some very small publications? What does it mean to know someone today? Or has there been a shift of the paradigm – is the goal now not to know someone, but to merely have an idea of how they think, what they think about, and what interests them? Is that enough?

When I think about curating a life and sharing it with others, the real art is in the edit, just like in writing. Knowing what to overlook and leave out is as valuable as the contents that remain because it gives those remaining a larger stage and greater emphasis. What remains is truly what our lives are about, the rest is just noise. It’s the cutting through that counts so that what’s left hangs together in a picture we can be proud of.

I also like this idea of curating life because it allows me to see where the holes are. For example if I step back from my life and look at what I’ve pasted up on this blog, and bucket the contents, I can immediately see what’s lacking. I’m not writing about volunteering in my community. If this blog truly reflects me, and the best of the insights I gain everyday, then I’m either not volunteering or the volunteer experiences I’m having are not fulfilling. This observation of my “museum of me” helps me start to consider whether volunteering is as important to me as it used to be, and if it is, it will encourage me to actively change my behavior to create fulfilling experiences in that realm.

This is the real benefit of these sharing technologies – to inspire us to action in “real life”. If we use them as a tool for self-reflection, to learn about ourselves the same way that we use them to learn about others, then they help us to step out into the world and build the collection of experiences and relationships that can truly lead us to happiness. These technologies allow us to step back and consider what it is we’re building with each passing day. As a result our lives on-line will have the added benefit of creating a richer lives out in the world.

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