Yesterday, I had a conversation with a colleague that inspired this rant series of thoughts on the risks around putting your opinion on the Internet.
When I asked my colleague (an incredible 20-something woman working in human rights) why she didn’t blog, she responded
“Yeah, I’ve thought about it. But I’m just too scared to put my ideas online.”
Pulling at that conversational thread unravelled some serious fears I’ve heard other young people iterate when it comes to posting their views online.
It turns out the digital era is a downright terrifying place for many of us to express an original thought. Why? I think, despite the fact we’ve gotten lambasted for posting drunken Facebook photos and sexting and inappropriate tweets, Millennials actually understand better than anyone else that there is no delete button on the Internet. The consequences of the words and images we broadcast online are immense, galvanising careers and fame or demolishing reputations and credibility. Something created with one intention can be transformed and amplified with massive ramifications well beyond what anyone could have predicted. Sites like Politwoops, though aimed at US politicians, ultimately reinforce the fact that all of us, whether we like it or not, are accountable for what we say and do online.
This accountability weighs down heavily on a lot (albeit not all) young professionals, especially many of us working on the politicsy-side of things. We are well aware that our employers will probably Google us before they check our references–so heaven forbid anything incriminating, wrong or stupid be attributed to our online identities.
But what happens when our awareness of our online reputations actually paralyses us from expressing any risky thoughts? That we steer away originality and innovation at expense of being more search-friendly for the future?
That’s when we hit the motherfucking danger zone, folks. Although technology has opened up the potential for more intellectual exploration, I see a paralysis taking root in far too many brilliant people because they are just terrified of being labelled next to their own ideas.
Well, I am over it. Let me deconstruct the two worst reasons not to be edgy with your thinking.
- 1. “I might be wrong.”
If you’re doing it right, you’ll probably be wrong a lot. When did we forget that being Wrong is a human attribute? We’re all going to be wrong at some point, personally and professionally. Consider it inevitable.
Sometimes making an argument or a conjecture isn’t about being trapped in the Right/ Wrong binary. More often, it’s that we can only see how firm the foundations of an argument are when we try to take a stand on it. And in that process of taking a stand, we may find that other people will disagree with us. We may find that we overlooked something. We may find that we made a mistake.
What becomes crucial here is the follow-up. The thinkers I respect these days are not the ones who get it perfect on the first go; it’s the ones who self-correct, apologise if need be, and can gracefully learn while an audience is watching (e.g. Scott Gilmore’s tweet on Bono).
Let’s aim for that instead of being Right all the time, ‘k?
2. “But what I write now may keep me from becoming the next President/UN Secretary General/entry level NGO worker.”
This breaks my heart. The fact that the process of developing ideas by putting them on (digital) paper could penalise someone’s future career is absolute shit. It’s also entirely possible. Even US Presidents have had their university papers dragged out and waved derisively under their noses as if exploring controversial ideas is a practice they ought to regret. Thinking evolves–as it should if we’re truly learning and growing–and that’s a marker of smarts not stupidity.
But if we are serious about social transformation, we can’t be scared of having to speak to a bad idea or a flawed premise we had when we were younger. So if it happens to you, grow up, own up, and move on.
The bigger question is how the sector can start to reward innovative thinking. How on earth are we supposed to be bold in tackling institutional, structural problems like poverty and gender-based violence if thinking outside the box feels like too big a risk in just getting hired?
The real road to social change is through edgy, challenging ideas that question our assumptions and explore limitations. Smart people do this. If your future employer doesn’t get that, screw them.
Also, screw electability. Just be interesting enough with your thinking to get fucking appointed, alright?
rant series of thoughts