"We’ve turned social media into a competitive individual sport. But when it comes to how we treat our family and friends, do we want to win at the expense of them losing?"
We tell our stories to each other online all the time. We break our lives into snapshots small enough to share on social media, and we squeeze our relationships into 140 characters, status boxes, and photos. We share fragments of our lives with the world, and that helps us feel connected, kind of.
The problem is that we’ve turned social media into a competitive individual sport where we compete publicly for friends and followers, for likes, for shares, for retweets, for views. Or we compete privately to share the most meaningful or funniest or coolest stories. Competition has its place. But when it comes to how we treat our family and friends, do we really want to win at the expense of them losing?
I know I don’t. Yet, I’ve seen this kind of competitive sharing in the relationship that matters most to me. I met Amy when we were dance partners in a summer theatre production away from home. Then we each returned home, she – to Poole, Dorset, England and I – to Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.A. Eventually, what started as a face-to-face friendship all too soon became a long-distance romance. We spent a lot of time telling stories to each other through text messages, photos, and in five-hour Facetime conversations, and we learned enough about each other to decide to get married. But in the back-and-forth there was a sense of unintentional competition. I’d send over a photo and hope it scored me some “points.” I was playing to “win.” But I also definitely didn’t want Amy to lose. Yet, as long as we were telling stories about living two separate lives as two separate people there was room for competition. It’s the difference between the individualism of dating and the union of marriage—the difference between “I” and “we.”
When I went to visit Amy a month later, she met me with a sign that said “Michael Morris, you’ve been worth every second of this wait.” So, of course, I proposed right there in the international arrivals area of Heathrow airport in the tuxedo I’d flown in. We only thought to take a photo when we got in the car. Then off we went on our second official date. Later that night, we put together a video montage with photos from both of our phones announcing our engagement. Then we each shared it on Facebook.
For most of our friends, it was the first time they learned we were dating. It was also the first time we told a story with each other because it was the first shared story we had to tell—our story. We told it to everyone who wanted to hear (and maybe to some who didn’t, sorry). We told it to the family and friends we visited; we told it on our wedding website and on social media. And telling it changed us. We became a couple, in part, by announcing online that we were a couple. The more we told our story, the more we felt united as couple.
Our engagement gave us one shared story to tell together. But when we were married, we promised to leave behind our individual lives to live one life together as a family. Now, every day, Amy and I tell our stories about our life—offline, on social media, and mostly to ourselves in a shared online photo album and in our text messages. And as we tell these stories we see vivid illustrations of who we are as a “we.”
For example, we have recently started fostering children. And we’ve been capturing this journey together through digital photos focused on our efforts to help the children in our care. We can see clearly the new meaning of our marriage—children laughing the day away in muddy bear hugs, a minivan that has to be fixed to take us on a spring break adventure, the success of a sleeping five-year old at 7 p.m. It’s becoming clear, as we keep this record, that our relationship can truly bless our children. That’s what our marriage is for now. And our marriage is richer, our bond is stronger, because Amy and I share a united vision of who we are—a vision forged and refined by telling stories with each other as a “we.”
Playing this new team sport—digital storytelling with a “we” instead of an “I”—allows us to stop competing and start really connecting. We “win” by becoming a team.
“Playing this new team sport—digital storytelling with a “we” instead of an “I”—allows us to stop competing and start really connecting. We “win” by becoming a team.”