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.
The more we think about packaging, the less authentic we are.
How about we not think about packaging and let life happen? Share what you feel like sharing and stop worrying about shaping your reputation. I have 37,000 tweets. People either like me or they don’t. They either want to listen or they don’t.
I don’t share what I wouldn’t share in other social circles, but I find “packaging” to be a real problem to getting to know people and getting to like them, and if we’re not using social media for that, what are we using it for?
We package and tell stories about ourselves in our heads all the time — they get so entrenched that we don’t even recognize them as such. Social media externalizes and makes us conscious of that process, which I think can be very useful — we can become as selective about the stories we run in our own brains as the ones we present online.
Wow! Profound point, Alison. Thank you for sharing this. It’s true: when I’m packaging up my life into 140-character increments, I’m hyper aware of that process. Not so when I’m just running the usual background narration.
This is a very interesting topic, and I like the line you draw between the ambivalence of having both online and offline selves, and the malaise felt by celebrities. I’ve never thought about it that way. One of the differences, though, is that by the time a celebrity is recognized and followed enough to create that public/private split in their lives, they’re usually also accumulating many of the perks of fame as well. Also, the path they’re on is fairly well-trodden, and coping resources abound.
Those with an internet presence, however, are feeling this out as we go. I can’t claim to have a huge number of blog subscribers or Twitter followers. But I have enough to make their presence known in the back of my mind, whenever I sit to write a new post or tweet. It’s a bit like being a celebrity, too, in that you have no control over who will see you when you STOP performing–who will read your blog after you shut your computer off and go to sleep, or even who will see screencaps of your face and what opinions you put forward, years after you shut your site down. We have all that to consider, whenever we hit “Post”. And for most of us, there are very few traditional fame perks to alleviate this nonstop responsibility.
The advantage that becoming someone over the internet has over traditional fame is that there is so much more collaboration and cooperation in this online space, and less of the cutthroat competition you see in real-world performing. We may all still be feeling this out, but we’re doing it together.
Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment, T. I’m tempted to propose that anyone who blogs 3+/week should get their own driver and bodyguard — or maybe I should say cook and personal trainer? — so that we get some of those celebrity perks you mention. But as you say, it cuts both ways: like you, I’d choose the collaborative spirit of the blogosphere over the pathologies that seem to go with mainstream celebrity.