Because of the broadcast agreements for showing the Formula 1 in the UK, the BBC doesn’t always have access to live coverage of the race weekend. Every few race weekends then I’ll be watching the race highlights on Sunday evenings. In theory the highlights will do just that, but even in a sport where there are people travelling along a road at 200mph it can still yield incredibly dull sessions that’ll send me to sleep. At the very least it paints an accurate picture of the race, even if it’s a boring one. Or maybe it’ll be a great race and I’ll miss all the boring parts to the extent that in my memory that entire race was just fun, exciting things and none of the tame parts ever happened.
Whilst we don’t all live life at 200mph, I think a good number of us are certainly presenting ourselves like this through a highlights reel of our life via our social media presence, a notion that isn’t exactly new (but let me have it, that was a good segue). Around a decade ago we began to embrace our digital presence without anonymity, a stark contrast from hiding behind avatars and display names we had on forums and games. Sure people on instant messenger would put up a profile picture of themselves, maybe actually use their real name too, the same maybe being said for MySpace even if that seemed intentionally a little off-beat, but it wasn’t really until Facebook gripped us providing a platform for a straight-faced information dump of your personality that the mask we wore when going on the internet, a mask of anonymity, really started to slip off our face.
Of course now it’s common-place to embrace social media in a significant portion of our lives. You could use Facebook to ask people for recommendations on somewhere to eat, go on Twitter to comment on a funny incident you saw travelling there, post a picture onto Instagram of what food you had whilst eating with the contact you found on Linked-In to go home and review the place on Yelp. You could do all of those things. I don’t believe many (any?) people do that, but they’re the options available to you, amongst many others. Even as an exaggerated example though, it serves to show just how many of our actions throughout a day can be showcased to the world if we chose to. And of course we chose to, everyone else does it.
We’ve sort of all been whipped up into this vicious circle of having and maintaining a social media presence and like most times when we’re showing off who we are to other people, we want to show off our best bits. This means only putting up pictures of ourselves that we really, really like (and maybe untagging ourselves from any we don’t), liking our favourite media (and maybe not liking our guilty pleasures), restricting who can see certain bits of information and so on and so forth. Now none of this is inherently bad, it’s just that the combination of all of these things, well, paints a clear picture.
I would be remiss though in not saying that we cultivate how we want other people to regard us the rest of the time too, but that’s a naturally more limited to your physical presence rather than something you can just put up and forget about. For instance, you might dress up decently when meeting up with friends, or maybe what you’re doing is fairly low key and you put in a little less effort because they’re your friends and they know that if you need to, you can dress better, but who cares you’re just all there chatting away with a film on in the background. So there, that’s mentioned.
What it really comes down to is intention. Are you doing the thing because you want to or because you want to show it off to others? What if that’s one and the same for you? Again, this isn’t new or necessarily good or bad, it’s really just an extension of the idea of introverted and extroverted personality traits, but I think rather than a natural extension of who we are there’s a forced method in play. So an extroverted person might put up a ton of pictures and share everything they have ever liked, whilst a more introvert person won’t. A pic here and there, a like of something, maybe. This obviously assumes an audience (and the perception of what you put up by said audience), but that’s why there’s a news feed of what everyone else is doing to encourage you to put up more of yourself. I’m sure for more than a few people that’s turned a relationship into a passive-aggressive competition as to who can have more information presented up there.
Of course all this information can be channelled in a specific way to attract specific attention masked as general interest. The obvious example really is the Facebook stalking we’ve invariably done (or if you’re a liar and won’t admit to that, thought about doing) that in some cases will be turned against a crush. Oh, they like this, that and that? Well, I’ll like this, that and that, or maybe make mention of listening/reading/verbing it and hope they respond. Maybe put up a particularly flattering picture as a profile pic. Again, this isn’t a new behaviour, when you’re around someone you want to impress, you do things you’ll think will impress them, but the information you show can be quickly changed and for those who thought otherwise of you, well they know that there’s stuff they haven’t put up there as a like, so why wouldn’t someone else?
I think my issue of this presentation ideal online over physical presence is that you can really easily, very quickly manipulate the idea of who you are. Change in the physical takes a bit of time, but online? Well, it’s already done. This, to me, seems really odd when you consider that you tend to behave slightly differently depending on who you’re around, despite the fact that this one cultivated persona is the one you show online to everyone at the same time.
Where’s the real you then online? Do you even know for sure? Hell, I haven’t even explored how language carries without the inflection that’s specific to us in person (although you’d hope that the people who know you and follow you on social media have a clue) or how older comments are saved and can impact your current situation despite not being the You presented right now. I suppose the real test will be the generation growing up with all of this well ingrained and integrating themselves into it as opposed to growing up and taking advantage of these new interesting things. Perhaps the end result will lead to some sort of weird dystopian future where we in a virtual world and who we are in the physical is meaningless and…
…well. Huh. I, err, guess…see you in The Matrix, everyone!