I think that, in a way, we’re all sort of acting like celebrities have to act, where you have personal persona and a public persona. You think about what you want to share with your fans. I know that’s how a lot of people feel about using Twitter, where, by default, most everything is public. So when you decide to share a detail of your life, what you’re eating for dinner or something that surprised or excited you, you’re thinking about how are people you don’t know going to react to it.
That’s Liz Gannes of All Things Digital, in an interview with NPR on Friday. She’s spot-on in diagnosing the average social media user as a victim of the same malaise that afflicts today’s celebrities, albeit in more modest form. A business blogger or personal Facebooker may not be chased down by papparazzi, but then again, bloggers and Facebookers don’t typically have compounds or security details. What we’re left with is simply that same sense of detachment from our own existence: the divergence between our lives and the story of our lives. Once that story stops living inside our own heads — once we start packaging it for consumption on a daily, hourly, or minute-by-minute basis — we become vulnerable to the kinds of neuroses, pathologies and even addictions that emerge when we lose track of our authentic selves.
Maintaining authenticity, in this context, isn’t about being your real self online: it’s about holding some part of that self back, just for you (or perhaps your immediate family and friends). That’s not a denial of the authenticity or reality of your online relationships; it’s a recognition that your online reality (unlike your offline reality, unless you’re George Clooney) is exhaustively documented. That documentation, that permanent record, that living narrative: for almost all of us it adds some level of inhibition. And unless some of that inhibition adheres to what you record, rather than what you do, you’ll end up editing your personality as a way of editing your online presence.