You Are What You Post

I’ve been reading some books lately on the perils of the Internet* and particularly the “sharing” culture of social media where everything has to be publicly posted on Facebook or Twitter. I’m not quite as against social media (or baby pictures!) as perhaps Ermine is, as posted on his latest blog, but I know I’m not as up for sharing information as some of my fellow FIRE bloggers seem to be. No way would I post my net worth, the value of my investments, my current income streams or much of the other personal financial details that other people seem to be comfortable doing.

I’m not sure if this reluctance is generational or cultural or something else again. I know that I never really knew what my parents earned when I was growing up. They never told and I never asked (I really wasn’t all that interested). In everywhere I’ve worked in my career, discussing your salary or income was totally taboo and, I believe, in some places it’s officially taboo. (I’ve come to believe that the latter is probably not healthy, especially when it comes to pay gaps between men and women.)  In the same way, I’ve no idea about the financial circumstances of any of my oldest and closest friends and, I think, I’d be somewhat embarrassed if one of them posted all their financial details on the web. I don’t think I’d want to read them and I’d rather not know. I do wonder about it, of course, and I’m as happy to gossip down the pub in general terms about how much we think our old mucker’s new business is earning him (or not). But, honestly, I don’t actually want to know the detail.

In the same way, if one of my old friends published their “Ten Personal Goals for 2016” on a blog, I’m sure I’d read it with my toenails firmly embedded into the soles of my feet. Look mate, I don’t want to know. Keep it to yourself.

I should state here that I’ve no problem with the blogging community who might read this – some of whom I’ve personally met – sharing their information, because that’s how I found them. Their “sharing”, for me, is part of that person, and I do admire their honesty and willingness to “put it all out there”. With older friends, however, I’m just not sure how I’d take a similar level of openness, and this prevents me from doing likewise on a blog.

The same goes for social media. I used to post quite regularly on Facebook and quite enjoyed tweeting or retweeting stuff I’d found on the internet. Over time though – and it was a short amount of time – I became a bit uncomfortable with it. I never posted anything offensive or anything that I later found embarrassing, it’s just that I began to feel some of my opinions were better kept to myself. That might be quite a strange admission for a blogger to make, but somehow I feel more in control of what I write here than something I might have tweeted on the spur of the moment or posted in a Facebook submission. I do sometimes puzzle over the postings that close friends or relations have made that lead me to think “That’s strange, why have they posted that?” and then wonder how well I actually knew them? I do think in life that it’s right and sensible to have various shades of personality to adopt in personal interactions that take into account social and cultural mores. But on Facebook or Twitter, it’s easy to appear as if you pretty much are what you post.

So, while I may well be writing “Ten Goals for 2016” in my personal life, my financial life, my fitness life and so on, I doubt I’ll be posting them here. I don’t think this is because I’m frightened of public failure when I fail to attain them, it’s more that I feel there’s a time and a place. January might well be the right time to do this exercise, it’s just that the World Wide Web isn’t the place for me to do it. 

* Two books in particular I’ve enjoyed over Christmas that highlight the dangers and potential downsides of current Internet trends are The Circle by Dave Eggers, which is a fictional thriller taking a big swipe at Google, Facebook, Twitter, et al. The second was non-fiction, The Internet is Not the Answer by Andrew Keen, which is a passionately argued case against the notion that the WWW is uniformly a Good Thing. Oh no it isn’t and, by the end of this book, I tended to agree. Both books, however, are really well written, witty and entertaining, and probably heavily influenced the post above!

13 thoughts on “You Are What You Post

  1. Another interesting post that hits close to home for me!

    When I was working, I shared my goal of “retiring early” and even the methodology I planned to use. (It was based on the Your Money Or Your Life book but, more honestly, my early retirement had more to do with some lucky bets on the stock market and some modest inheritances.) I just never felt comfortable sharing precise info about how much I made or when I planned to call it a day with my work colleagues for fear that it could be used against me in some way. Sounds paranoid, I know, but there it is.

    One more tidbit: even though I’m retired now, few people outside my family know. I guess I “pretend” to still “consult”. Why do I keep up the charade? Well, thanks to the aforementioned paranoia, I think I prefer to let people know I’m still struggling to make the ends meet—otherwise, they’d all wink and nod to each other when I complained or having to watch the budget or not having enough time to do something (an excuse I like to use to wiggle out of things). I don’t want people speculating about my finances and I think (but I could be wrong) that they’d make all sorts of assumptions. It’s a lie I tell and live, and it detracts a bit from the enjoyment of my early retirement.

    Curious if you also tend to downplay your early retirement and, if not, the reactions from your friends and family. (Well, I suppose your family and friends are reading your blog so I doubt you have this option.)

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    • Totally empathise Ed and yes, i do downplay the “retirement’ side of the equation to friends, colleagues and family, partly because I don’t quite believe I’m about to settle for it. Much as I enjoy my current lifestyle there’s a definite gap that paid work used to fill that I haven’t found a good replacement for.

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  2. hi Jim, thanks for your post. Two things strike me – the first is that you are publishing under your own name, whereas a good many of the people who are open about their net worth and other financial details write blogs under a pseudonym, and not many people other than a tiny clutch of fellow early retirement bloggers who might have met them at a get-together are likely to be able to identify them. The second is that most of the people writing posts on their goals for 2016 are not retired yet and the goals form part of their efforts to reach early retirement. Being retired doesn’t preclude setting goals, obviously, but surely someone in your position doesn’t need to worry about what percentage of your income you are managing to save, etc – part of the point of retirement is to enjoy the freedom! Anyway, those are my thoughts.

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    • True enough Cathy, it’s horses for courses. I’ve certainly found a lot of the information shared by bloggers really helpful and I’m not knocking it. And I’m definitely not against goal setting either because I know how effective this can be. It’s just always been quite a private process for me. I know on these blogs that we’re all into that but, in “real life”, people who sit down, think through and then physically write out personal development goals for themselves are really quite rare. In fact, outside of this online community, I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to anyone who has openly discussed it!

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  3. I’m very cognizant of these things too. I have two separate friends lists on Facebook. I post some generic, non-offensive stuff for everyone, but a special list of 40 or 50 get the full brunt of my nonsense.

    I don’t want to post my income or net worth on my blog either. But I tend to do a lot of calculations, and since I just did my savings rate, I had to show my income if I wanted to “show my work.” I suppose exposing this stuff is the cost if I want to demonstrate financial calculations. On the other hand, I think we’re all a little too precious about our income, and maybe it’s better to be open about it. Unless you’re making astronomical sums, we might be flattering ourselves to think that anyone cares. I’m a public employee and anybody can look up my income on a website if they were inclined, but I doubt anyone I know personally actually cares enough to have done that.

    The Internet Is Not The Answer sounds good. I’m gonna addd it to my list. Thanks for recommending it.

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    • Facebook and Twitter certainly made me think about “seeing myself as others see me”. I could post a joke that half my friends would chuckle over and no doubt think “typical”, while I could imagine others being somewhat horrified. So it was easier not to have to worry about it. On the income front, I need to get over myself a bit because if I posted the specific detail about my investments and pensions, for example, I’m sure I’d get some great advice from the online community as opposed to picking one financial adviser and disclosing it to them alone.

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  4. I too am somewhat wary about giving away to many financial details. I have a friend who is ex-police and their view is that facebook, twitter and any online account (even online banking) is unsafe and should not be touched for some of the reasons you state…plus many more.
    When you apply for jobs now, they check your facebook and other online profiles. I have heard of ex-work colleagues being dismissed because of posts they have made on social media sites. It is quite often detailed in work contracts now. One guy thought that posting his life on social media was fine until he suffered the bad side and now is more wary on how much info he gives away. To the extent that he has closed down all his online profiles and is off-grid.
    Those books you mention sound interesting and worth a read, I will check them out. Keep working on finding that replacement for the ‘gap’. I am sure you will find it.

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    • At work, I was surprised when my HR Director told me she kept tabs on the Facebook accounts of employees and vetted potential hires this way too. We also had problems with Twitter and employees posting stuff we’d rather they didn’t. None of it was too bad, so what to do? This was never resolved while I was there.

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  5. I think when creating a blog you build a “persona” on the internet which is not necessarily the only aspect of yourself you want to share, and certainly not with everyone.
    By using your real name on your blog, you’re mixing your real life with your “ER & financial goals” persona, and I think this could be what makes you uncomfortable.

    I’ve seen it the other way around: I have a twitter account I sue to share my blog posts, and have been tempted more than once to retweet political stuff or jokes or whatnot. I have to constantly remind myself that my “blog” persona is decoupled from the real me. My blog persona does not have a political opinion because that is not what my readers are looking for or the scope of my blog.

    So I think it’s all about avoiding mixing personal stuff and your “blog persona”. not sure if I make sense.

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    • I do know what you mean but for me it’s just easier to write and keep myself in check as opposed to writing and having to check if it fits with a “persona” I’ve created! But I might try it – start another blog where I can deliberately try to stir things up. I do think, however, as I’ve stated above, your chances of having an “anonymous” blog are pretty slim. If someone wanted to find out your real identity it wouldn’t be hard.

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  6. Hey Jim

    I don’t talk about my salary to friends, colleagues or family but don’t mind posting (semi) anonymously on my blog. When I first started my blog, I made the decision to include my actual numbers because the blogs I had discovered included the authors’ income etc and it was something I was interested in reading about, even if said income was very different from my own.

    At work, we’re not even allowed to mention things like bonuses or even pay rises, because not everybody gets them. Pay gaps between men and women? Highly probable but of course, never discussed.

    Funny that you mention about not wanting to read about your friends’ details because I wouldn’t want to read those of my friends either – reading about ‘strangers’ on the interweb though is very different.

    I understand your reason for not wanting to post your goals – everyone is different.

    I’ve never been a prolific poster on FB even though I’ve had an account since the beginning. I do make the odd comment but it does puzzle me that some people post all sorts on there. I’d never link FB to my blog though.

    My Twitter account was created solely to be linked to my blog.

    Good luck with you goals anyway, whatever you set!

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    • Hi Weenie, it is quite interesting how we’re managing these new levels of social contacts. It’s still such early days for the internet, who knows how it will evolve. I laughed today when I saw Adele was discovered on MySpace. Remember that? I believe Facebook is now winding down with younger people and Instagram is the new new thing. Today my son asked me if I was on Yik Yak yet which, of course, I’d never heard of….and so it goes on.

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