The Atlantic

The Costs and Benefits of Worlds Colliding

Readers weigh in on the ways that social media has changed our freedom to show different aspects of our identities in different domains.
Source: Reuters

I recently suggested that the rise of social media has undermined something that a great many Americans value: the ability to slip into a given domain and to adopt whatever values and norms are appropriate there, without that affecting one’s reception in other domains.

The article elicited many responses. Below is an edited selection of reader letters, beginning with one from a man who personifies the phenomenon:

I am a teacher. I have published works of fiction. I’ve written newspaper articles. And I’m a lay religious leader. I am not ashamed of anything I’ve done in any of these contexts. I would not mind having a dispassionate, mature person observe me in any of these aspects of my life.

But my religious beliefs are not appropriate for my classroom. My views as an educator make me more liberal than many in my faith. I have written PG-13 books that I would not want a young student to read. And I have people I know from my past whom I love who say things I find stupid, or whose political or cultural beliefs are silly or uninformed or flawed. They are not bad or objectively odious (e.g., racism, etc.). I am not ready to abandon relationships with these people. Nevertheless, I don’t want them to meet everyone I know on Twitter.

Part of me feels that it’s simply no one’s business what I do. But in the social-media world, it’s not only that our worlds have collapsed, it’s that people feel empowered to not only observe, but to comment and actively intrude in each world. I don’t think it even takes a misstep or mistake to cause destruction (I use that word carefully). Of more concern to me is that something absolutely appropriate in any one context could cause absolute destruction in all other domains. If I wrote a book that many people loved but a conservative-leaning parent found offensive, I could be fired at school. Something I said at church might anger someone whose progressive views made them skeptical of religion. I could

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic7 min readPsychology
A Couples Therapist Analyzes the Marriage in Marriage Story
This article contains spoilers about Marriage Story. It’s a rare achievement for an intimate, quietly heartbreaking film about the dissolution of a relationship to light up social media feeds with impassioned debate. But Noah Baumbach’s Marriage Stor
The Atlantic5 min read
The Two Players Who Are Breaking the ‘No-Fun League’
As the 2019 season enters its final stretch, an entertaining MVP race showcases a less restrictive brand of football.
The Atlantic8 min readPolitics
Nigel Farage’s Brilliant Failure
The arch-Brexiteer won’t make major gains this election, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t succeeded.