We live in the age of social media, where our every thought can be broadcast across the entire world in a matter of seconds, and there are very few gatekeepers to keep us from doing so. In and of itself, while this is certainly something for people to adjust to, it’s not necessarily bad. It’s simply a new facet to which we must adjust as a society and make our own individual choices as to how far we wish to take it. However, even in the midst of such a conundrum, it seems to me that creative people have more to think about when it comes to matters of publicity versus privacy.
For starters, the average person who goes to school or works a 9-5 job has no vested interest in whether or not the world cares what they do or think. For them, deciding to spread their ideas and opinions around is simply a question of whether or not they want to. Conversely, people involved in politics or public relations must use these outlets to sell an image, but that image may or may not be themselves. Creative people are caught in an oddly sticky spot between these extremes. Thanks to the internet, humanity is more inundated than ever with voices struggling to be heard, and while it is a good thing that these voices have an outlet, it is painfully easy to become lost in the noise. Hence, many creative people have created web presence for themselves to bolster their careers and garner publicity for their works. These outlets, especially such social sites as Facebook and Twitter, do have a downside. Whereas if the average person says something embarrassing or controversial, it may be seen by a few people and even argued a bit, public figures face far more potential for backlash, even possibly alienating their fans in the process. So, given this, must creative people neuter their voices? Must they keep their opinions to themselves, or deny themselves the right to do as everyone else does, simply because their audience is bigger?
As always, the answer is in the It Depends spectrum, but I believe there are several important matters to consider before making such a decision. When it comes to me, for example, I have little interest in sharing the banal details of my life with the world. I believe in privacy, as well as letting my work and ideas speak for themselves, rather than turning myself into a spectacle. Also, while I do have political beliefs, and an astute reader could probably deduce them with some effort, I generally don’t express them in my work here, partially because, yes, I don’t want to potentially alienate half my audience. The point, for me, is talking about ideas both geeky and academic, so what I think about taxes or the like is irrelevant. In any case, that is my individual choice, and I don’t think everyone needs to feel that way. For example, a deft comedian might be able to talk about their day-to-day life humorously, thus generating interest in their act, and someone who caters to some side of the political spectrum or the other would be insane not to express their opinions to an audience that expects it. Hence, I can understand why some people would make the choice to air aspects of their lives publicly.
Unfortunately, we are not always at our best, and unpleasant thoughts can slip through. There are numerous instances of creative people getting in arguments with each other on social media sites, which can make them appear childish and petty. Some people even write ill-advised posts which make them appear to be terrible people. Regardless of whether accusations such as these are true, or if the people in question were just having bad days, that data is out there, and unlikely to go away. There will be people who carry the judgments about such creators with them ever after, and may indeed spread such ideas to their friends or families. However large or small that effect might be, it is still that many fewer people who are interested in the creator’s work, and since most creative types would rather have more fans than fewer, this is obviously something best avoided.
So regardless of the level of public exposure one desires, how can this be done? Where does one draw the line of what to say? I believe the answer lies in what we as creative people choose to do to begin with. Any creative person worth their salt knows that one doesn’t release the first draft of a work. Before anything we do goes out, we examine, we proof, we show to those we trust, and we revise. When expressing ourselves on social media, it should be no different. This isn’t to say I think every blog post or status update should be taken to a workshop, of course, but as it is the desire of the creative individual to put their best foot forward and draw people in, we owe it to ourselves to make sure we carry that logic over to every aspect of our professional lives. If something might be controversial or driven by blind emotion, it’s wise to sit on it for a day, or an hour at least, and consider if it’s necessary. Most people have some incomplete and ill-formed opinions, especially if we snap to them. Is whatever ephemeral clout one gains from expressing such ideas worth the shame of them being out there forever, especially given time to rethink or regret it? I would argue not.
To be a creative person is, by necessity, to put ourselves out in the world. Every word, every image, every sound, and every movement is deeply personal, and shows the audience some side of ourselves. However, the power is in our hands to choose what sides of ourselves we show. The idea of having a medium where people hang on our every word can be heady and tempting, but there will always be a need for creative discipline. From the people who tweet their every thought to those who won’t even reveal their names, whatever we express should be the best of ourselves, and exactly what we mean to show.