Living Like No One’s Watching in a World Where Everyone’s Watching

At the risk of sounding like a paranoid nutburger, I have to say something about the world as it is today: privacy is dead.

Between corporate data mining, government monitoring, the potential for spy drones, implanted tracking devices, nosy neighbors, and animals as listening devices, there’s a non-zero chance we’re always being watched.

While phrasing it this way makes it seem like an Orwellian dystopia, in reality, we rarely feel the impact of such monitoring except for slightly more specific ads than we’d otherwise expect.

Personally, I’d argue that what we fear more than being watched is being judged. But the thing is, even if we tape over our webcams, destroy our smartphones, and wrap ourselves in tin foil, there’s no way to escape people judging us. In fact, especially in the case with the tin foil, we can pretty much guarantee it.

Shame is a powerful sociological tool for keeping the norms of a group of people intact. We’re taught from a young age to conform, and when we rebel, we’re either shamed by other members of our group, or by ourselves.  Because even if you know deep down that the campus squirrels are animatronic spies, this isn’t really an opinion that the general public will support.

So how do you overcome the fear of being judged and, as an acquaintance of mine once posted on Facebook “dance like no one’s going to put it on Youtube” ? I have a few simple, but not necessarily easy suggestions:

 

  1. Accept that you’re going to occasionally embarrass yourself
  2. Realize these things don’t affect who you REALLY are
  3. Improve what you can, embrace what you can’t

 

We’ll start with acceptance.

Coming to terms with negative experiences and feelings is always difficult, and it takes a certain shift in mindset to be possible. The mindset I’d suggest adopting is to realize that you’ll definitely make a fool of yourself at least occasionally, but most of these slip ups won’t be nearly as noticeable or memorable to anyone but you.

Even if you do something truly mortifying, and someone manages to film it, and they proceed to put it on the internet, the end result is simply that most people won’t see it or care. It will be, to quote Darwin from the Amazing World of Gumball, “just a drop of embarrassment in an ocean of shame.”

It’s like when you listen to a musical performance. If there’s a few wrong notes here and there, you generally aren’t aware of how it effects the song. There might be a handful of people who know the song REALLY WELL, and they might notice. But for those few people who notice your mistake, and actually happen to care about it? Well, with the exception of something truly hurtful, they’ll probably forget in about a week. So don’t worry about it!

Why do we feel embarrassed you ask? Well, there’s a bunch of reasons, but mostly it comes from violating social norms, either due to ignorance of these norms or just honest mistake.  When we act “wrong”, we feel shame.

However, in an increasingly varied and interconnected world, it pays to interact with others in a genuine way to form meaningful relationships. Of course, choosing to be your “most authentic self” will reliably lead to some slip-ups here and there. Especially if your true self is, like, *really* into conspiracy theories. But you can’t do anything about others choosing to try to shame you, all  you can do is ignore it.

The easiest way to ignore it is by realizing that these people don’t know you, and they probably won’t impact your life beyond one uncomfortable interaction. So dance whenever you feel like dancing, wear a flashy outfit every day of the week, and try out that new thing with your facial hair!

 

Because ultimately, no matter how many people judge, these things don’t affect who you really are.

There’s a lot of opinions about how to determine who you really are, but the ultimate measure is what you decide to be.  You’re not defined by your mistakes, no matter how embarrassing. You’re defined by your character-how you act when you’re alone, and with other people.

That old adage about how you treat someone who can do nothing for you?  Yeah. That matters WAY more than wearing a bow tie that a random stranger thinks looks dumb.  What’s some person on the street know anyways? There’s no way to confirm that they’re *not* a reptilian while they’re side-eyeing your attire, after all, and lizard people have no sense of style.

The person that you choose to be is far more important that what others think, because ultimately, no matter what you do, someone’s gonna hate. So you might as well just do you, and let the chips fall where they may.

Ok, but what if the judgement is coming from people close to you? It’s a little harder to ignore shame from your close friends and family.  

If your friends and family are anything like mine, they’re probably going to bring up your random embarrassing moments for YEARS into the future.  But, since they’re such a huge part of your life, they’re going to do this no matter what. So you might as well make it easy for them. Experiment with some outlandish fashion trends, try out that crazy diet, sing in public, and just give the people what they want: something to talk about!

 

Which brings me to my final point: improving what you can and embracing what you can’t.

Trying out new things gives you a chance to see what works for you and what doesn’t.  Everyone wants to be operating at peak performance-physically, mentally, and socially-but if you never try anything new, you’ll never get a chance to see what that would look like.

Sure, it’s embarrassing if you draw up a cute note to ask out that hottie at the library and they say no. But they could say yes, and if you never bother to try, you automatically disqualify yourself just because you don’t want to risk the rejection.  And realistically, who would say no to a hand-drawn note? Maybe include some candy too (just sayin’.)

Similarly, a lot of people don’t want to go to the gym because they’re embarrassed.  They think you have to already look fit to go get fit. So they disqualify themselves to avoid embarrassment and give up the chance to improve.  I mean, I get it, I don’t like the gym either (Youtube workouts ftw!) but if the only place you’ll improve your physical fitness is at a gym, you have to overcome the fear of embarrassment to get any gains. SICK GAINS in this case.

Even mentally, we’re always censoring ourselves. We crush our own creativity because it’s not good enough, and we’re embarrassed. We do this even though we know that the only way to git gud is to practice and let our minds expand and explore.

Sure, some of the things you try aren’t going to go as planned. Even more than embarrassed, you’ll feel like you failed, like some things just *don’t* work out for you. And that’s ok too!  The fact that you tried something new should be a point of pride.

Realistically, we can’t all be mega-fit super-suave creative geniuses, we all have some things that come naturally and some that, no matter how much we try, will always remain out of our reach.  Embracing what you can’t change is an important part of deciding what’s worth focusing on, and what can be left to the birds.  Maybe not the birds that are trained to take down drones, but other birds, you know?

The important thing is to just live your damn life, the best you possibly can.

Honestly, I’m not some crazy free spirit with wild fashion choices and a rainbow mohawk (at least not currently.)  But I like to think that the NSA files of my work and conversations are anything but boring.  Because honestly, the best way to live in a world where everyone’s watching is to stop fearing embarrassment and try to make the show worth their time!

Posted in mental engineering