This is a picture of a warning sign in the dorms at Miami University (Ohio)—a college we both attended before not finishing college. While it’s a fairly humorous warning (and likely a student prank), the last line also seems to be a suitable synecdoche for the online world: “Please masturbate in your own rooms.”
Of course it sounds vulgar, but, unfortunately, the analogy is apt. Many of us get so caught up in displaying ourselves online that we’re willing to do just about anything to get attention—Hey look at me! Look what I’m doing! Pay attention to me!—as if yelling loud enough will attract and retain quality readers, as if it will attract and retain a large audience.
When shouting in their empty room doesn’t work, people often resort to silly stunts and obscene actions: the drunken Facebook pictures, the banal Twitter updates (“I’m eating a pancake!”), the shirt-off-in-the-mirror photos, the pop-up ads and sleazy marketing, the superfluous cursing in blog posts. All of which is tantamount to public masturbation.
People do these things because it gives them instant gratification. Someone might “Like” a picture of them inebriated and passed out on the arm of a couch. Someone might retweet their silly tweets. Someone might comment on their obnoxious blog post. That modicum of attention, albeit negative attention, can become addictive. And so they feel compelled to do more of the same, upping their gratuitousness threshold each time.
The problem is that this doesn’t work—not in the long-term anyway. It never does. Sure, yelling loud enough will attract scads of new comers—we can’t help but slow down and look at the wreckage, but we never stick around to admire the post-accident clean-up. Similarly, someone’s public indecency might draw some initial attention, but they will be left feeling empty and alone when people leave the scene of the accident and never return.
Like masturbating, some activities are private activities, and they aren’t meant for public display, be it online or in the physical world. This is one of the reasons the two of us don’t write about our personal, intimate relationships online. That stuff is private. Moreover, it wouldn’t serve the greater good. And since our focus here is to contribute to people in meaningful ways—to show people how to living a more meaningful life—we needn’t tell every personal detail of our stories.
Thus, we show you our personal lives—up close and very personal at times—but we make an attempt to leave out the stuff that does not add value to your lives (viz. the stuff that doesn’t serve the greater good). Which means (we hope), we show you the applicable parts, the humorous parts, and the aspects that have changed our lives, in hopes that those same things can change yours. We want to make a difference in the lives of our readers—to engage them in thoughtful conversation—that is why we write here, not to show our private parts.
Please share this essay with the public, don’t just keep it in your room.