The online world: Ouch and wow!
As a 59-year-old man who has dipped his toe in the online world, for the first time in the last six months, I have to say - ouch and wow.
Why wow? The potential and opportunities. Gosh, it seems to offer unlimited potential for the growth of my counselling practice. The opportunities seem to indicate no limit to where I could end up e.g. matey boy the ex-city trader who earned £31k while jogging, the couple who saw their SME business grow exponentially since marketing through a specific platform. The examples are numerous.
Why ouch? I was feeling quite pleased at having sidestepped the numerous offers that would empty my meagre bank balance and not having gotten into the “I must have the last word” exchanges. Quite grown up and mature I think.
Ouch - not all ouch but ouch nonetheless.
Then there are the networking sites, for me it is Facebook. I joined a few counsellor Facebook groups with the aim of growing my experience, my number of clients and the opportunity to network with other counsellors.
Being mindful to keep my ego and mind in check I “liked” others' posts, commented on some posts and finally plucked up the nerve to post. As a counsellor, I am under no illusion that counsellors are all well, well-balanced and scrupulous. That being said, some of the responses I got (and am still getting) range from caustic, judgemental, critical, confrontational and hostile to warm, supportive, helpful and pleasant. A real mixed bag but, I feel, a good representation of society in general.
Having a good enough sense of self and being used to self-reflection I am coping alright with both sorts of responses. I was still shocked by the vitriolic and negative ones though. With self-reflection, I am able to see what is my stuff and what is not. Thankfully.
That is just me though and I realise that the online world is far more important to others than it is to me. I have a new understanding/experience of the way the online world can be for others now.
I am able to consider how important it is to the isolated, the inept, the shy, the sensitive and the self-aggrandising. The person who has grown up (literally) in this milieu. I am able to consider this from an experiential perspective rather than an academic, vicarious perspective. I wonder how others experience this.
Anyone can be a keyboard warrior, a grammar nazi and a pedant when they are sheltered from the reality of face-to-face interaction. Anyone can become dulled to the consequences of their words, even more so when they have no way of seeing the repercussions. In a face-to-face setting, we would all be able to gauge our output with the help of nonverbal cues such as posture, demeanour, facial expressions and tone of voice. Without any of these, we can become forgetful that our words have repercussions beyond the typed word.
Does the fact it is “only” Facebook, or X or whatever platform somehow switch off our inner self-censoring? If that is the case then why do some people have the ability to be kind, considerate, tolerant and supportive in their responses and activities? Non-judgemental and not self-aggrandising?
Where I am at with this is reflecting and considering the Jungian archetypes. If Jung was correct in his recognition of the archetypes, (reputable movers in this field such as The Myers & Briggs Foundation openly acknowledge the roots of their business come from the archetypes) then perhaps the online world is a new way of the archetypes being expressed.
When faced with online feedback we might be uncomfortable with, I offer this, and it relates back to fundamentals in understanding the human psyche.
If we are affected by others' actions (words in this case) perhaps we can find a sense of self that is secure and robust. Secure enough to see that we are only seeing a very small part of whoever's words we are reading. Although those words may have a hurtful and critical impact on us, we can choose to not let them hurt us. We can, when face-to-face, discern when a person is angry, tired, hungry or just an antagonistic person, and we can make allowances for them.
This is something that, with a bit of refinement and practice, I have found to be a useful buffer when engaging online. I feel that the significance to the individual of the others' responses is proportional to the amount of time we spend in the online world. The more time we spend online the more useful the discernment and reflection are.
One thing I have found helpful regarding online interactions is balance. If I were to spend every spare moment checking on social media, posts and feedback I would consider myself out of balance. I consciously counter this with time away from the online world, time speaking and meeting others face to face, and time spent walking with my phone switched off. I find it has been very helpful to have set times when I will not engage online. These could be called boundaries - a word for mindful practice in this case.
Anyway - I must go now, my phone has just got a new notification… haha!