[Editing this article, I noticed that I generalize a lot. I make assumptions and say things like “I think people think that…” or “a lot of people view others this way…”. I don’t know if these generalizations are true. However, I felt that, if I think like this, that others probably do too. This post, along with all of my blog posts, area based off my own observations in life. I may be completely wrong about everything in this post; perhaps it is all just a reflection of myself… but that’s for another article.]
There are the “Album Lists of Your High School Years” statuses going around on Facebook, and I really enjoy reading them. I like seeing the albums that my friends would define as the most influential during their adolescent years, and I liked posting my own and replying to the comments left by friends. Last night was a snowed in, cozy Saturday night, and I contently spent the night coloring, listening to the albums of my youth, yogaing, and checking in on facebook every hour or so to respond to notifications about these lists. And I had a great night! It was a lot of fun!
I enjoy using social media, and like most aspects of it. I also kind of think that social media is a new type of art, a genre we don’t yet have a name for, in that it can be used as a way to express ourselves and connect with others, and that’s great! However, I think it’s important to keep in mind that social media is an activity. It’s something to do for fun, its something akin to reading, writing, playing an instrument, painting, playing solitare, whatever.
So here’s where I see the problem: I believe a lot of people forget that social media is an activity. I think a lot of people view other people’s social media presence and internet usage as an extension of those people- That their social media usage isn’t something that they are doing, it is a part of who they are. And it is through our social media usage and internet presence, that our digital personalities are created and live.
Ok. Let me share an example of social media defining people. There is this woman who I am friends with on social media platforms. She posts shit that I like (most of the time, I actually ❤ it). And she likes (and <3s) a lot of my posts. We have a few mutual friends in common, and she always seemed like a cool chick. I recently met her in real life, and she sucked. She was rude to my friend, and was not the person who I expected her to be. I was so surprised! I like her digital personality a lot more than I like her actual personality… so, what are the implications of this?
The biggest problem I see with forgetting that digital personalities are not real, is that we judge people before we even know them in real life. We think because someone likes Feminist Pages and endorse #InsertWhatevereHere organizations, then they probably embody the aspects of those pages and things in real life. And depending on how they use the internet (the statuses say that they write, who they retweeet, what pictures they post), most believe that this person is probably similar to their online personality in real life. And this, like my example above, is not true. All digital personalities and true personalities are two different things, regardless of how similar they may seem.
In fact, how I view someone online is made up in my own mind. How I read a status, the tone of voice that I read in my head of a person, is what forms my opinion of them. And this can easily lead to dangerous miscommunication.
Also, there’s the chance of “transference” happening when interacting with people on the internet. I’m thinking of the social work definition of transference, which is when a client is reminded of someone else in their life by the counselor, and then sees the counselor with a tint of the other person’s personality or likeness- which is not who the counselor is. So, another example. Say that Johnny looks at Kim’s profile online. They don’t know each other personally, but Johnny sees that Kim likes “Save The Everglades” page. Johnny’s friend from high school’s sister, Catherine, also likes this page. Catherine always rubbed Johnny the same way because she was aggressive about her views on environmentalism. Because of this, Johnny already has an idea about Kim, and associates her with Catherine. In reality, Kim just liked the page because her friend asked her to, so the page would get more likes. Johnny doesn’t know this, and decides to not be friends with her online, or in real life, because he doesn’t like how he perceives her digital personality.
This example might seem extreme, but what about when you get a friend request from someone you don’t know personally and they shared a pro-Trump status on their page. Are you going to not judge this person as being a Trump supporter, and then automatically associate them with how you feel about other people who are diehard pro-Trumpers? I’m honestly asking. I can confess that I am guilty of making such judgments.
How about people who aren’t good at using social media? Their digital personalities are most likely not going to be good representations of their actual personalities. What about the person who might not be the best writer or speller? If they use the wrong grammer, do we think they are stupid? This is an easy example, and I’m sure you can think of many more that carry greater weight.
How about the people who seem like they are really good at using social media? Their endless selfies have kabillions of likes, their statues are well thought out, and their videos charming. Is their life really great? Probably not. But that doesn’t weaken their digital personality’s influence on all that they touch.
I’m not sure exactly how my social media/online digital personality is interpreted by people, and that can make me feel a little weary at times. Because I want people to look at my social media usage and think that this I something that I do, not what I am. I also need to be aware that how people view my digital personality is unique to them. I don’t want people to read my posts in a tone of voice that is sarcastic, condescending, or rude, because that’s not the tone of voice I use to write them. However, someone who doesn’t know me and has an opinion of me based on what they see of me online may believe that I am rude, sarcastic, and condescending. And that sucks, man, because its not real.
So I guess the question is, are you aware of your digital personality? And do you care? I care about mine and hope its as similar to my real personality as possible. But it’s still not actually me, just like how I view you online is not actually you.