It was 232 years ago this morning that members of the Continental Congress were waking up and getting ready to review the revisions Thomas Jefferson had made to the Declaration of Independence. This was a moment that had been in the making for the previous two decades, with the colonies growing ever frustrated with the King’s distant and indifferent government.
Can you imagine the fear and trepidation that must have been flowing through these men’s minds? They were all about to put their signatures onto a document that was going to be spread around the colonies, British Empire, and the entire world. With this very transparent statement of independence, these men were making themselves vulnerable to the ultimate consequence – to hang as traitors to the crown.
Yet, they all did it. They signed their names to a document that has inspired generations of people around the world to embrace freedom from tyranny. [According to Wikipedia, the United States Declaration of Independence was the first of 62 such declarations from 1776 to the present day.]
As I was preparing for the holiday weekend, I came to realize these men are an example that we all can follow when it comes to social media. Judging from conversations and discussions over the past few months, I am keenly aware that many people are uncomfortable with the idea of sharing their thoughts, photos, ideas, and tidbits of their lives with a global audience.
This discomfort usually manifests itself into statement like – “We just don’t want to open ourselves up to a law suit.”
I don’t think anyone does really. However, I think this statement is rooted in two different types of social fear.
Let’s explore the first one: the fear of accountability. The assumption made is that allowing your conversations to get permanently recorded on the Internet is inherently risky. While it is a bit disconcerting to have an I-Team from the local news channel with their microphone and video camera follow you around, it is not the same as writing a blog, posting photos, sharing videos, and joining other conversations.
Yes, we are all human and we are bound to say or post something that can be misconstrued or that is plain wrong. Just think of your friends and co-workers. Over the course of weeks, months, and years, we build a pattern of behavior with them. One mistake does not usually kill those relationships. The good news is that people are pretty understanding and are willing to forgive you with a simple apology.
And the better news is that you can always add to the public record by correcting false accusations, explaining previous gaffes, and staying in front of the conversation. If you mess up on the Internet, address it head-on, apologize, and move forward. It’s that simple.
As I said, I think this concern is rooted in two different types of social fear. The second source is the more powerful of the two: the fear of vulnerability. It is the vulnerability we all have when we open ourselves up to share our thoughts and feelings. That can be a scary proposition especially when you’re living in the Interconnected Age and anyone can find the thoughts and feelings you share on the Internet (yes, I know, Big Brother is watching).
We devote large amounts of energy to making sure we look good in public. When we operate in the physical world – we suck in our guts, color our hair, wear certain clothes, and observe the various rules of etiquette, all in the hopes of making ourselves look better. The social vanity thing is inside us all.
That’s why I think John Hancock would have love the Interconnected Age. He would have embraced this transparency and thrown caution to the wind. Instead of writing his signature in very large script, he’d be blogging a couple times every day, posting videos on Qik and YouTube, hosting his own social network through Ning, created a killer avatar for Second Life, and been living large posting comments on everyone else’s blogs.
So do you think I’m right? Is it really about the fear of accountability and vulnerability?