The show focused on the romantic and personal lives of the main characters -- lawyers working in a fictional Boston office, who actually said what they were thinking about.
Who would have thought then -- 1997-2002 -- that it wasn't so far fetched releasing all that personal information to total strangers? What would they think of online content today?
We know Charlie Sheen finds himself right at home on Twitter, these days. So there. He's used to the spotlight, it's part of his persona-lity. Having a microphone and a platform or a stage can get you used to thinking and acting in a certain way.
Everyone is an "actor"
If you publish consistently to social networks, it becomes almost second nature to write what you're thinking about. Twitter, Facebook, and even LinkedIn encourage posting. They make it easy and addictive to send status reports.
Bored while your flight was delayed? Hop on Twitter and share it. Having a bad day at work? Tell everyone. Dining with a popular blogger? By all means, check in, tweet, upload photos, and blog about it later, too. There is no such thing as too much information anymore, is there?
Of course, it's a free world, and people have different settings in social. I have no problem at all with any of the posts I see online. And, in case I do, block, unfollow, delete, and overlook are all there to help, just like in real life social settings. Self-aware is a responsibility of the self, as the term indicates.
The stories in shows like Ally McBeal hit a nerve because life itself is often offbeat and frequently surreal.
Two kinds of irresistible temptations
Real life has a way of defaulting to opt-in. Online is not an alternative world with no consequences. The only way to opt-out of saying or doing something you'll regret is at the thinking stage -- you know, before posting.
Many people confessed to me that they would not say the same things in person or to someone's face. So why do they do it online?
There are two kinds of reactions. They both say by not saying. And since social networking -- and community management -- is so much about nuance, if you know what you're listening for, you will have a better chance at navigating relationships, and making connections, based upon what you learn.
They are at the opposite ends of a spectrum:
1) the overly optimistic, all encompassing, everyone is my friend, there is never a bad day under the sun and it's a wonderful life, always, which is hard to pull off, even in writing, when the heart and head are not in the same place;
2) and the all is totally normal and super, there is nothing wrong, after all it's business as usual kind of behavior that becomes hard to pull off when, in fact, the evidence paints quite a different picture.
The second reaction or behavior is the one we're used to calling inauthentic in business. We have years of practice in reading those tea leaves. The first one is harder to detect, because there is a bit more semantic evidence work you need to do on the way the information is shared. The clues are there.
In the conversational style of social networks, it gets interpreted as stronger signal. To the discerning anthropologist, it spells a different message. One for human, zero for technology. I would be shocked if even the most sophisticated machine could be that good to infer what is not said.
Silence is information, and it can speak louder than words.
What it means for connections
Proceed with care. It's far more enjoyable to default to trust in human relationships. However, technology changes constantly, humans don't. Social networks create this gigantic speed dating environment where people collect potential mates, just because they can.
And there is tremendous opportunity and possibility tucked in there. Connections take time, though. So if you want to develop meaningful relationships, invest in them, find ways to meet people in person, and choose to pay attention to what is said, as well as what goes unsaid. Silence is golden, too.
What you don't say says a lot about you, after all.