A Generation Inclined to Share

January 25, 2012 0 Comments

We can only find satisfaction in a high-tech, hyper-connective present/future if we are careful to use these advancements to build upon—not separate ourselves from—a meaningful, collective intimacy.

—Alex Steed

As Gen Y-ers/millennials—I’m grouping the two together since the lines aren’t clear and it still feels like such a new century!—we are a generation inclined to share. Thanks to social media, largely Facebook, we are a generation inclined to “like” things and “share” things. Which is to say, like all generations that have come before us, we like things and share things. Bear with me… What I’m saying is, we share information and ideas about work or art that interests us and sometimes work or art that we create as human beings have always done. Only the means of this sharing have changed, right? So why does it feel like everything has changed?

Sometimes when you feel like everything is changing around you, it’s because you’re 25 (or 27 in my case), and life opens up wider than you could have ever imagined in your 20s. Other times it’s because everything around you is indeed changing and you live in a remarkably interesting time in history. Due to an explosion of technologies and applications changing the methods and frequency by which we communicate and share (read John Freeman’s The Tyranny of Email), I’d say we live in a particularly interesting, deeply transformational time. Technological advances have radically changed the ways in which we engage with the world and with each other, the very way we live our lives.

The thing (and sometimes problem) is, while it’s easier than ever, sharing—communicating something of interest and value to another human being or group of people—no longer requires calling up our friends or colleagues on the phone. It no longer requires sending an email. We can simply post the item of interest on our Facebook page. We can send something out into the universe via Twitter. And in doing so, we can feel like we’ve shared. If we blog, we can stop ourselves at the moment we push new information out before ever entering a dialogue. We can hide out online, connected and not connected to others.

But sending (or re-sending) information out into your social network is and totally isn’t sharing. It’s a limited, passive form of sharing that, while certainly not being useless, often makes us feel more engaged and useful than we are. And when life is moving fast, when we feel bombarded with a ton of information coming at us from all directions, and when we don’t know what to make of all that information—whether we’re in our 20s, 40s or 60s—this kind of sharing is much easier and safer than all of the ways in which we could share more meaningfully.

What might other, more meaningful kinds of sharing look like? On one level, it may mean doing something with all of that good information we come across on a daily/near-daily basis and feel compelled to share with others. It may mean attempting to make sense of all of those ideas, reflecting on them in community with other live human beings (or even just one over coffee) or moving those ideas forward one way or another by offering our own unique insights in our work or art.

We need not always do something with the information we receive, but when we know we can offer something of use to the world as a result of all of that new information available to us, I do think we have a responsibility to go ahead and offer it.

On a deeper level, more meaningful sharing may mean having the courage to think about what our real work on the planet is and taking concrete steps to do that work. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with sending information out into the world with the click of a button. More information and increased access to the right kinds of information often makes us smarter, more productive, even wiser individuals. But like anything, this kind of sharing and feeling engaged can serve as an escape from our real work, whatever our real work may be. By real work, I mean the work we feel called to do in our bones. Work that genuinely excites us and work we feel the world needs now. I think this is what my friend Alex, who I’ve quoted above, means when he says “separate ourselves from a meaningful, collective intimacy.”

As you can probably tell, I am writing this as much for myself as anyone else. I am a lover of information, a Gen Y-er often inclined to share, a person who can waste time online if I’m not careful, and a human being who sometimes struggles with questions as to where to put my energy and where I think my real work is. As genuinely helpful as social media is, I’ve found it’s all too easy to get caught up with everything else out there than to do my real work here, away from a constant source of distraction and intellectual stimulation.

I’m writing this to say more than “get offline.” I’m writing this to remind you and I to stay human, connected, and awake in an increasingly digital world. I’m writing this to remind myself to dedicate time to writing every week. I’m writing this to tell you I think the world needs you—whomever you are, whatever age you are—to do your real work, whatever you think it is. I’m writing this to remind us to go be courageous and talk to each other about the things that really matter, in person.

With thanks to Nicholas Schroeder for inspiring this post.


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