A sex columnist and a children’s book writer went out on a first date. The conversation flowed, the chemistry was palpable…but ultimately the children’s book writer decided there couldn’t be a second date. He was afraid his dating a sex columnist wouldn’t work for his career. True story.
I thought of this story again when I read Penelope Trunk’s recent post about being honest about who you are at work, in the context of Jason Collins’ coming out story in Sports Illustrated: “The more you hide, the harder it is to find a job that’s right for you.”
I think a lot about the post I wrote about the distinctions of public, personal, and private, especially when I’m talking to people about social media strategy. Because in order to be genuine, in order to connect with people in a deeper way, it’s often necessary to share some of the personal. But figuring out what’s personal and what’s private isn’t easy. And when the career you love and your private life (or alternate for-money career, as is the case for many artists) don’t quite mesh together, it’s hard to reconcile. Hence the children’s book writer making the tough decision not to date a woman in whom he was interested in order to avoid a later dilemma.
Our society is in the middle of a shift involving the availability of information and the level of connectedness between us. I met a book editor last month who complained about how often his writer Facebook friends posted about their politics and how much this bothered him. A decade ago, this wasn’t an issue. It’s so much easier to avoid talking much politics when you’re going out for drinks with your editor than it is to avoid posting about anything remotely politically every day. And even if you talked about politics over those drinks, that conversation has a different contextual place for both you and the editor than it does in a social media feed.
So we find ourselves wrestling with two related problems: having less control overall over the information the world can access about us, and having more of a platform from which to release our own information about ourselves, which means we have to decide what to say (and what not to say). In addition, we have to deal with the implications of all this information floating around (or the potential of it to be released) to our careers, to our loved ones, to our complicated social landscapes, and in terms of ethics.
These issues are exacerbated for artists because of our society’s collective difficulty in considering works of art as something apart from their creators. This is when we begin to see parents objecting to a children’s book because its author is not seen to be of sufficient moral character. I also know people who don’t want to go see the Ender’s Game movie this fall not because they object to any of the material they think they’ll see but because they don’t want to give money to Orson Scott Card. Certainly as content consumers we have every right to decide what art we will and won’t consume, but it is interesting watching the trends towards making that decision based on the creator instead of the work. Why is this change taking place? Because more information about these artists is generally available (both from themselves and from outside sources).
As privacy becomes less possible and we have less control over accessible personal information, it will become increasingly important to use our platforms to tell our own stories about ourselves. As Justine Musk says, “If you don’t tell your story, someone else tells it for you.”
It is going to become harder and harder to hide. Sometimes we might be able to make decisions like that children’s book writer and keep things simpler for ourselves. But other times, what’s at stake will be too important. And perhaps it’s at that point when having the platform and ability to communicate in your own way becomes the most important.