Personalized, not Personal

(This is a post of my reflections on concepts and personal experiences relating to the subjects of socializing, connecting, and relationships.)

We hear a lot of phrases repeated in the modern world, phrases that people say (in my opinion) without really thinking about them. For example, the phrase “Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” a phrase often used to suggest that a person should “solve their problems” or “achieve their goals” on their own (without looking for help from anyone else). But people using this phrase (seemingly) don’t know that it began as an example of “something that is physically impossible,” (and therefore the people saying it are unintentionally being ironic).

Similarly, there’s the phrase “Nothing personal, just business,” which is very odd considering how so many business practices include things like: shaking hands, smiling, small talk, and generally acting like “you have a personal relationship with this person,” even though it’s really “just business.”

So many business practices involve these pseudo social patterns that seem designed to resemble (or fake) social connections and emotional warmth, but simultaneously place no obligation on the customer to echo or even acknowledge these pleasantries. This makes me think of a new phrase that (I feel) sums things up rather nicely. “Personalized, not personal.”

Defining Personalized & Personal

In this context, I’m going to say that:

Personalized means something that ‘feels’ like it was specifically made with you in mind (not necessarily that it was, just that it feels or seems to be that way).

Personal means a situation or interaction where you have a more ongoing, less defined relationship with someone or something else. Where there are less restrictions, less formal structure, and (often) where a person’s emotions are more involved.

Obligations are less clearly defined but (often) the overall expectations are greater (if vague).

Personalized (Pros & Cons)

Personalized (as a concept) is often associated with objects and typically means “something that is custom made to your specifications (or with your preferences in mind).” This can also apply to an experience, but it’s often harder to create a personalized experience.

This is partly because the providers of the experience need to know a lot about the person in that moment, where as a personalized object can be created over time. Personalized objects also often have the advantage of “Once I create the original, I can still create duplicates and sell those,” whereas a personalized experience often means “you are the only audience.

Personalized experiences (and items, to a lesser extent) are often more expensive. There’s a greater “time investment” to make sure it is “precisely what is wanted.”

However, as technology (and our understanding of certain things) grows, people have learned various techniques and “tricks” for how to “feign” personalized without actually putting in all that effort. Some of the oldest examples include “allowing each instance of the object to be slightly different (in small ways),” as well as “adding a particular name (or location) as a last touch” (producing multiple units with the name Michael, Sarah, John, Mary, etc.). Staff in stores are taught to speak and act in a way that is “friendly and warm” (regardless of how they are actually feeling).

As technologies advance, software programs are able to use “data” to further customize the experience, using your name and referencing interests and products that are relevant to you (as if they know you personally).

This is (of course) all an attempt to get you (the customer) to lower your guard, to forget about the business’s agenda of “profit” and believe that they “care about you as a person” and “have your best interests at heart” (making it easier to influence and manipulate you).

As a side note: I do not inherently believe the term “manipulate” is itself “bad.” I believe that people frequently (in various ways) try to influence and assert some measure of control over each other, and in many cases “while it could be considered manipulation, they do have good intentions.” In many cases I think we intentionally seek out manipulative experiences (i.e. watching a show or movie) so that we can enjoy the results.

Personal/Authentic (Pros & Cons)

A person’s authentic, personal self is “who they really are” (in contrast with the various personas that a person portrays because it is required, expected, and/or because the rewards/penalties make it “worth it” to them to do so). Keep in mind, a person’s “authentic self” is (usually) a very complex thing (with many different sides and aspects).

When something “relates to” or “is because of” some aspect of “who you are” as a person, people tend to label it as “personal.” Examples include “making a choice” or “saying something” that specifically relates to someone’s preferences and/or prior life experiences (typically relating to a very intense memory), or remembering something specific that someone previously told you about themselves.

Keep in mind, the phrase “it’s personal” is often associated with the cliché of how someone (in a conflict) “made things personal,” and thus motivated a character to prioritize “punishing them,” but the truth is “most things that we enjoy” are enjoyable because they are personal.

I believe (I could be wrong) that all people have a desire to be “accurately understood” and “accepted/validated/valued” for their true nature. Granted, “how someone wants to receive that” can vary from person to person (some want to create a work of art and see “their creation” praised and in the spotlight, others may want to “be” in the spotlight themselves). But one common feature across all people is a desire to be accepted/validated/valued for something that is authentically true for/about them. If it’s not something that they did (and chose to do) then (odds are) it won’t work even if others do “accept/validate/value” it. So a person needs to be “accurately understood” before they can get “what they want.”

In many ways the idea that someone “took the time to get to know you” and “felt you were worth getting to know” can itself feel very validating. There’s a sense of safety that “They know me and accept me, so I don’t have to be as anxious or careful. I can ‘relax’ and ‘be myself’ because I know that ‘they are okay with who I really am.” Of course, that assumes they don’t reject you.

Rejection is a very real risk whenever we engage anyone else, but what makes it particularly challenging when things are “personal/authentic” is the fact that when things get “personal/authentic,” there’s a way in which that often means it’s easier for our emotions to get stirred up. This is (in fact) one of the major reasons why people both “crave” and “are wary of” personal and authentic interactions. Regardless of whether the interaction is positive or negative, it’s (generally) more emotionally intense.

Faux Personal (The Compromise)

Faux Personal (in my mind) is a concept of how “people want the illusion of a personal connection (without the obligation to be authentic and personal themselves).” I think it’s a practice of “speaking and acting in ways that ‘seem personal,’ but are easily answered,” for example the concept of someone asking “How are you” but expecting the other person to keep their responses limited to some form of “Good, okay.”

I think the defining feature of “faux personal” is a convention of “get as close to ‘actually personal’ as possible (without actually transitioning into ‘truly personal’),” as well as “don’t draw attention to the fact that this is not in fact ‘personal.”

Together, these two concepts make “faux personal” very slippery. The very nature of the practice makes it difficult to avoid transitioning into “personal,” while the practice of “not drawing attention to the fact that it’s ‘not personal” can make it difficult to get clarification about “where the line is (for someone).”

Some of My Experiences

I regularly attend themed social events where I don’t know anyone, and (often) at these events I encounter someone who knows nothing about me, and yet they very quickly decide they want to interact with me.

Some of them never reference “what it is,” but the ones who do seem to consistently express that I “have a strong sense of myself” or “I’m very ‘aware” or “know something,” and the way they say it (to me) suggests that they are saying “in contrast with everyone else at the event.”

Now I definitely feel that I am “different,” but I tend to feel that “everyone is ‘different’ (in various ways),” and everyone has different things they “know” and “bring to the table,” so “this” often strikes me as interesting (why is my difference being singled out here?).

We end up chatting, and often the conversation wanders all over in a lovely organic way, and when the time finally comes to part ways, they suggest that we trade phone numbers or connect on Facebook (and I oblige), but in the aftermath, nothing.

And what’s really strikes me as interesting. I didn’t specifically “seek out” this interaction, and I didn’t push for anything beyond “this time.” The other person (consistently) suggests some form of “let’s keep in touch” (and even references a desire to interact more), and yet that “interest” consistently wanes, and (in most cases) that “one time” is the only time we ever interact.

What I think is going on

A little context, I am an intuitive feeler, and as an intuitive feeler, I tend to “learn people” (the same way that someone might learn a song). I believe that intuitive feelers have a tendency to instinctively “learn” any person we interact with, and “tailor our remarks and responses to them,” creating a very personal experience, which (I believe) is very attractive to others (because it feels so personalized). However, I feel that (in many cases) people confuse “personalized” with “personal.” I don’t think it’s a conscious distinction, but I think (on some level) it is made.

I believe that (in this modern world) many people interact in ways that I would almost call “faux personal,” offering simple inquiries that are easily answered in short phrases, a kind of “this feels personal (but we never let it go too far).”

In contrast, I feel that some types (including those who have strong intuitive feeling skills) have a tendency (often without even being aware of it) of engaging others in a way that is not only “authentic” but also tends to “draw out the authentic self” in others, and (at first) I think it feels very good. I think (in some ways) that “it” is actually what many are actually seeking, but then there’s the realization of “what is involved.”

Whenever someone “authentically engages you,” it’s harder to maintain distance. Whenever you authentically engage someone yourself, (I believe) it involves actively trying to reduce the distance (making it easier for them to affect you emotionally).

This can make authentic interaction very intimidating (particularly if a person suddenly realizes that an interaction has become authentic). They may suddenly feel “obligated” and experience intense emotions about those obligations (which may conflict with their intentions).

I think this is why many prefer “faux personal” interactions. They are close enough to “feel real (and satisfying)” (at least unless/until you encounter “the real thing”). But at the same time, nothing can compete with the real thing, which gives it such an intense allure (until they realize it is “the real thing” and/or remember “what is expected in return” when dealing with authentic interaction).

I think people are so used to “faux personalized” and “faux authenticity” that many can’t readily tell the difference consciously (though they favor actual personal and authentic when they can get it), but also consistently balking at the reality of “being expected to reciprocate in kind.”

I think this is most evident in the various ways in which both “recurring phrases” and “general attitudes” seem (to me) to be a contradictory combination of “you should really (be more friendly)” and “you can’t expect (or ask) ‘that’ from others.”

I’m curious, what do others think?

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