In my younger years, when I talked to less people and entertained myself by walking around my town, I used to wonder if I ever came up in conversations I would never hear with people I didn’t associate with. This was not too long before literally everyone had a smartphone. In the years following I have a social media presence. I probably post on social media a few times a week, whether by me actually posting or sharing something, between Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and this blog. Because of this, I imagine it’s something of an infinite-monkeys-with-infinite-typewriters scenario, and there is a more than likely chance that something I have posted has been screencapped by someone, and they have sent it to their friends. Maybe they liked what I said, or maybe they think I’m naïve. Maybe they like me or maybe they don’t, and everything I add to the Socialsphere adds to their derision. I think most people, whether they know it or not, exist as a screenshot on someone’s phone, as a brief topic in someone’s messages. And maybe it is flattering to you or maybe it isn’t, and there’s something terrifying about that.
On the internet, you can craft yourself into whoever you want to be. In real life, I’m not so wordy. I keep my thoughts and opinions to myself. I try to be very neutral. I think I come off differently on Facebook or on Twitter. I’ve met people in real life that I’ve enjoyed talking to, only to come out of it saying “I like him/her, I just don’t like their Facebook.” I’ve met timid people who are unapologetically brash on Twitter. You, perhaps unconsciously, create a split self. Your internet self. Your pages are your brand. To be an active social media user, you are selling an image for an outside viewer. You sell yourself as a family man/woman. You sell yourself as an All-American. You sell yourself as an artist. You sell yourself as a success. You censor yourself for family members, potential employers, or new acquaintances. You’re selling a misrepresentation.
It’s not your fault. You hear stories of people getting fired for what they post on Facebook. You see people lose friends over a post they didn’t like. By scrolling through your timeline, you’re seeing people who seem to be doing so much better than you are. And they might not be. They’re only selling you on the good parts. Social media is the ultimate Keeping-Up-With-The-Jones’s machine. And you don’t even have to talk to anyone to brag about it.
But maybe not talking is the problem. Maybe a lack of communication is what leads to knee-jerk witch hunts. Maybe it’s what leads to ill-tempered people typing the most vulgar, violent stuff with the intent to hurt the reader. I recently made the mistake of replying to a guy on Facebook about Kanye West. He proceeded to make fun of me for liking someone popular. Their profile picture was some team’s logo. I figured him to be a 14 or 15 year old kid who just discovered punk. It turned out he was 32 and had two young children. Those profilers are run by people, some well-established and potentially decent in real life, and are used for yelling at other profiles with other people behind the words and pictures.
And none of this is new, but I’m left wondering if it possible to be truly yourself on social media without being sentimental. If the idea of an audience watching makes any online interaction inherently fake. Or is the only way to be genuine is to not participate at all?