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Really Real Life

Do you do Facebook? Are you LinkedIn? What about a MySpace page, do you have one of those?

I have to admit, I came into the whole social networking scene a little late. I only started a Facebook page this year (gasp!). I honestly just didn't feel like I had the time or energy for it. But after much peer pressure, I gave in. And of course now that I have one, I enjoy spending time on it - putting up my favorite books and movies, playing Scrabble, posting photos, keeping up with friends, and even finding some old high school friends I'd lost track of.

I often wonder about the draw of social networking. Just what is it that's made the whole thing so popular? I mean, sure, there's the "social" part of it - seeing what your friends are up to, communicating easily with them (even over long distances), finding out interesting insights about them. You feel connected and like you're part of?well, a network of friends.

But I also think part of the appeal is the opportunity to define yourself. These spaces are all about personalizing. You get to choose your friends, your games, your applications. You decide what you want to display and where you want it displayed. On MySpace, you can even choose from hundreds of backgrounds - making your page as colorful, eclectic, or artsy as you want it to be. As you consider yourself to be.

Because that's what it is in the end. This space is your place to say, "This is who I am." Under "Religion," there isn't just a simple box for "Christian." You can put Jesus-follower, Passionate about Jesus, Reconciled With God, Redeemed. And each of those labels says something about you. So do your choices for favorite music, books, movies?and the stuff you opt to put in your "Interests" category. These are all true things about you, but they're not everything - they're selective. After all, there isn't room to put up every book you love, or all the music you listen to. So you choose what to put up based on an idea you have of yourself. And an image you want to project?

I'm fun and silly (just look at my photos!). I'm alternative (you can tell by the music and TV shows I've chosen). I'm well-traveled (see the map). I'm deep (just look at the quotes I put up). I'm an artist (check out these links to my art and read my "interests"). I'm ambitious (see my work history). I'm enjoying life (again, look at the photos). I'm a Christian, but I break the stereotypes (see my whole page).

In their book, Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want, James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II, write:

Social networking represents just the most recent medium through which to show off one's self. In Life the Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality, Neal Gabler reflects on how "life itself was gradually becoming a medium all its own, like television, radio, print and film, and that all of us were becoming at once performance artists in and audiences for a grand, ongoing show" In short, life was becoming a movie.

Thomas de Zengotita picks up on Gabler in Mediated, asserting, "from now on [people] will be constructing themselves and performing the constructions. They will never again just be."

That's what I worry about sometimes on social networking sites, personal blogs, and the rest - that we use them as places to construct ourselves. And then we become conscious of trying to live out that construction. We become constantly aware of our own personal "branding."

Does this fit with my image? Are these clothes consistent with my look? Am I taking enough pictures of my vacation to put on my site? Should I link to this or that, or is it incongruous?

Those are the questions we start asking. And, if we aren't careful, pretty soon our construction becomes our pursuit. And we are no longer just living and being, we are performing?trying to make our lives live up to an ideal we've created based on whatever social constructs have influenced us (TV, movies, friends, fashion).

I know that none of this is completely new. I know these tendencies have existed before social networking. People have always tried to project a good image. Think of those Pharisees with their cups so clean on the outside, or David with his self-righteous response to Nathan's story of the sheep thief.

But what can be so frightening about social networking is that it's such a public place. Some of the "friends" on our pages are people we may or may not ever see. So this image is all they have of us. We don't have to prove our mettle or character to them. They can't test this construction of ours against the reality of our daily living. This is who I am to them. Like the annual Christmas card filled with only the good stuff. Only this is all year long.

And the lines between real reality and virtual reality are so easily blurred.

I always try to be "authentic" on Facebook - and on my posts here - but it's impossible to be completely true in those spaces. They aren't real life! They can't test me, or counter me, or force discussion, or prompt action. For that, I must go to my real-life friends. And with those friends I must be conscious about being transparent, about revealing myself, about intentionally avoiding constructions. With them I must just live honestly and un-self-consciously.

Do you still have friends in the here and now? Real people who you share your true self with? Are you willing to be transparent - even when it chips away at your constructions?

July22, 2008 at 5:59 PM

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