Recently, I decided to come back online after a 7 year hiatus from the ‘real world’: You know, that place where appearances count for almost everything, and where you have to be very careful to play the game, if you want others to take you and your ideas seriously.
I have another book coming out shortly and after my last couple pretty much sunk without a trace, because there was no online marketing or presence to back them up, I decided that this time round, I had to at least make an effort to get a bit more out there, somehow.
There was just one problem: the online world is a pretty untznius place to be, if we define tznius in terms of trying to avoid attracting attention. You can see the problem already, can’t you? On the one hand, pretty much the only point of doing anything online is to attract attention. On the other, attracting attention is the classic definition of ‘untznius behaviour’.
So I’ve been sticking my toe into these murky waters very cautiously indeed, to try and feel out the least untznius ways of participating in the fundamentally untznius process of getting noticed on the web.
As a writer, I hit my first real big bump in the road when one of the sites I’d contacted about doing posts for turned round and asked me for a full frontal picture, to accompany my pieces.
10 years’ ago when I lived and worked in the UK, this wouldn’t even have crossed my radar as a potential spiritual problem. When you’re regularly shaking hands with a load of Toms, Dicks and Harrys every single day, it’s just not an issue in the same way.
But now? Now, I’d spent seven years living in Israel and trying to refine my behaviour. Now, I didn’t shake hands with strange men, and I did my best to avoid getting into unnecessary conversations with the opposite sex. I came off Facebook almost a decade ago, for Heaven’s sake!
So now, being asked for a full face photo was actually a big deal. I ummed, I ahhed, I tried to find a way around it, like obscuring most of my face behind a huge gerbera – and the editor who asked me for the picture was seriously unimpressed.
That opportunity vanished into thin air.
I’ve been continuing to fudge the issue with my woman-cum-gerbera picture for a few months’ now, until God sent me a brainwave to get a cartoon picture done. It’s still a fudge, I know. It’s still not really ‘tznius’, I know, (what is, on the internet?), but given my impossible requirement to attract as much attention as possible in the most tznius way, it ticks a lot of boxes.
Another area where I’m struggling, tzniusly-speaking, is being in contact with members of the opposite sex. For the last few years’, I’ve been out of the workforce, and I could pick and choose who I was interacting with.
Online, I can’t.
I’m still trying, in whatever small way, to keep any necessary emails with men I’m not related to short and to-the-point, but I know I’m fluffing it up sometimes. I know it’s not ideal. I know that God is not shlepping nachas from me ‘linking in’ to a bunch of strange blokes.
But I don’t really know what to do about it all.
And then, there’s the coup de grace of untznius online behaviour, and that’s Facebook.
Ah, Facebook. How I hate it. How I’ve done my best to avoid it all costs the last 10 years, and how distressing I found it to have to bow to the inevitable, and sign up for a new account.
Facebook for me is purely business. I’m not ‘friending’ anyone I already know, I’m not spending any time ogling other people’s cute kids pictures. I’m just making the bare minimum effort I need to make to get noticed online, to give my book a chance of selling.
But my heart still sinks everytime I have to log-on to try and promote my Facebook page. I don’t know what’s more depressing: that so many people are wasting so much of their time and energy generally commenting and liking and posting, or that so few people are currently doing that on my page.
The thought that I’m actively encouraging more people to waste more of their life in my direction is profoundly disturbing.
But I don’t know what to do about it all.
I spent years praying for God to show me a more tznius way of getting my stuff noticed, without really getting anywhere.
So now, let me open up the floor to the other frum people out there, who are trying to maintain their standards of tznius online.
What’s working for you? How are you managing to attract attention in the most modest ways? What tips or ideas can you share with me, for maintaining my spiritual decorum while still trying to build a platform, online?
Is that even really possible, or am I deluding myself? I’d love to hear your experiences and feedback.
In the meantime, I’m consoling myself with the thought that there really is no perfection in the world until Moshiach comes. When he shows up, even the internet will have to clean up its act, and it will be possible once again to sell books about talking to God even if you don’t do Twitter or Facebook.