The Internet is famously full of rants and falsehoods but in the next 20 or 30 years it will foster a revolution in personal honesty. In fact, the revolution has already begun.
Why not be honest? There is no need to pretend. All the secrets are out and all the stigmas are gone. Intimacy is in our grasp and we can take it without fear.
The Secrets Are Out
The Internet has taught us that we’re all flawed. If a politician lies or even exaggerates, sites like Politifact will expose the falsehood. If priests abuse children, it can no longer be covered up; within a few years a Google search for Catholic Church scandal will yield over 11 million hits. Nor are the problems of the common man hidden: Google personal problem forums and you’ll have over 312 million places where you may discover that many people struggle with the same issues you do — even people from sub-cultures that present themselves as having all the answers.
The Internet even reaches into the past. Anyone who is curious can discover the grave flaws of the founders of her religion, the actual behavior of people in the supposedly good old days, the dubious history of his holy texts. Nothing is secret anymore.
The Stigmas Are Gone
It’s no wonder that stigmas have fallen. It turns out that every scandalous thought and behavior has always been with us, and now we all know it. If you assert otherwise, anyone with an Internet connection will laugh at you.
Fading, too, are the stigmas of mental illness, physical handicaps and serious disease. College students now get lectures about STDs as part of freshman orientation and we can now say plainly that someone died of cancer rather than “after a long illness.”
We no longer keep secrets nor maintain pretense because we don’t have to.
The New Intimacy
The new generation knows this and routinely discloses to the world what their grandparents would have hesitated to whisper in private, and what their more remote ancestors would not have mentioned at all on pain of death. People post once-unmentionable details of their lives on Facebook. Bloggers like me try to attract an audience for arguments that once would have literally gotten us burned at the stake.
People want intimacy, and this is the new intimacy: sharing our lives with neither shame nor fear.
The Internet makes intimacy easy by offering a certain feeling of anonymity. You key your thoughts or secrets into a machine, whence they fly off to “the cloud.” Time, distance, technology and layers of abstraction separate disclosure from the discovery.
Some folks wish certain topics would return to the realm of the unmentionable, and certain institutions would again be sacrosanct. This is misguided. Secrecy is the mother of hypocrisy and gratuitous shame; sanctity the father of corruption.
Now that we know each other’s secrets, now that it’s clear to everyone that We are not better than They, we can drop all pretense and take up honesty and compassion. What a welcome change!
Information has now reached warp speed: it is bending the values of society. That’s an exhilarating twist that can bring joy to all of us.
Great post! It’s an interesting point that the internet’s destruction of secrecy can be freeing–It definitely is.
I’m interested in your closing thought which groups honesty and compassion–because sometimes I think dishonesty and compassion go together as well.
I’ll be watching your blog to learn more about the interplay of honesty and compassion. In the meantime, perhaps we can say that the fewer secrets there are, the less need there will be for the dishonest form of compassion.
That may be particularly true where we now feel compassion demands that we feign conformity. For example, many gay people are afraid to come out even to their families for fear of breaking their parents’ hearts. They are closeted partly out of fear, but also out of compassion. That is starting to change, for the reasons I suggested in my post.
However, we will probably never see the day when a wife can ask her husband, “Does this dress make me look fat?” and he can respond “Yes” while being compassionate.
Articulate and well written! 🙂