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day 18: this illusion of vulnerability on internet screens

“…the truest thing about a person, that person’s real story, is just as often the thing withheld—the silent thing—as the thing offered.”

I came across this sentence from Vinson Cunningham today in a New Yorker essay about Humans of New York. (I read the New Yorker because I am sophisticated, and also because sometimes its articles show up in my news feed)

What does it mean for folks like us (who choose to write certain words about our lives on internet screens for anyone to read) that the thing withheld is often the real story?

For all our efforts at being vulnerable, after all, the words you read here are no more true “vulnerability” than a picture of a dog on Instagram is a dog itself — which is to say only very little.

To put it another way: our words are only ever an illusion of vulnerability. What you see here is a self-portrait.

This is a good thing.

I can tell you some things that appear vulnerable: Currently I’m wearing Hulk shorts from last year’s Halloween costume instead of underwear because I’m terrible at doing laundry and it’s all I have left. When I’m engrossed in work, I fail to wash dishes and my kitchen looks like something you’d see on a TV show about people with a pathological inability to wash dishes. I’m worried that this standing desk I built for myself is six inches too high, and this is a problem because my shoulders hurt but also because I was proud of it and I hate the idea that this thing I’m proud of might actually need to be rebuilt.

This is a good thing.

I love that I can share these mundane, boring, colorful, absolutely human bits of my life, and maybe on the other side of the screen you’re reminded that you’re not the only one who sucks at laundry and dishes, and in that human connection there is value.

But also, this is not quite really the real thing.

Real vulnerability requires trust, and trust requires relationship, and relationship requires work and effort. This is why, I think, as much as I deeply appreciate the glimpses into one another’s lives, the moments of shared humanity (and they are real) afforded by the medium of words on internet screens, it will never be enough (nor should it).

A picture of a dog on Instagram won’t run toward you and jump into your arms, nuzzle its warm face into your armpit and drool on your skin. Only a real dog can do that. But maybe a picture of a dog on Instagram will remind you of the reasons you love dogs, and keep alive the dream of having your own one day.

And maybe this illusion of vulnerability on internet screens will remind us of all the reasons we want and need and love vulnerability, and remind us again to build spaces for it in our own lives.

This blog post is part of #write31days. This year I’m skipping out on a theme and going with ten minutes of unedited free-writing every day (unless I don’t feel like it, let’s be honest). You can read more posts from my #write31days by clicking here.



published October 18, 2016

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