With your online representation, you get to decide which photos you’d like to upload, who you’d like to friend and which bands and movies to claim as your favorites. In a way, you get to cultivate a persona that may (or may not) mesh with your real self. You get to decide what content you’d like to add, modify and delete.
In Sharing is Creepy, Nicholas Carr says that:
Your online self … is entirely self-created, and because it determines your identity and social standing in an internet community, each decision you make about how you portray yourself…is fraught, subtly or not, with a kind of existential danger.
Carr claims that there’s an inherent arrogance to sharing so many details of your life with total strangers. In some ways, he says that it has a sadomasochistic quality because the exchange can become similar to that of a celebrity and a fan. And, when you think about it, there are a group of “A-listers” for almost every blogging niche imaginable.
Another factor that plays prominently in the cultivation of an online persona is guilt. In The Burden of Twitter, Steven Levy says:
Guilty. I feel guilty that I have a blog and haven’t contributed to it for seven months. Guilty that all my pals on Facebook post cool pictures, while the last shots I uploaded were of Fourth of July fireworks—from 2007. Guilty that I haven’t Dugg anything since, well, ever.
It seems odd that one would feel guilt, not out of something they did or didn’t do in real life, but because they didn’t contribute enough to their social networking activities. But, if you blog, tweet or visit multiple social networking sites regularly, there can be a sense of not being connected if you can’t log in to deliver regular doses of content.
Though, Levy’s guilt of not contributing enough can easily flip when he finally does log into these multiple platforms to update.
The more I upload the details of my existence, even in the form of random observations and casual location updates, the more I worry about giving away too much,” he says. “It’s one thing to share intimacies person- to-person. But with a community? Creepy.
He has a valid point. Do we spill all these details (sometimes overly personal) to other random strangers that we know in real life? Do you wax poetic about your new shoes to the mailman? Do you tell the person occupying the seat next to you on the bus about your hot date last night? Probably not. So, what compels you to dish out these voyeuristic glimpses into your life online?
It’s human nature to want to share what interests us. At the same time, we enjoy tiny glimpses into the lives of others who may have talents, personalities (or a hot pair of shoes) that we admire.
The bottom line with social networking is that you’re responsible for what you decide to share online. You have the freedom to choose as little or as much about yourself as you’d like. As sociologist Duncan Watts notes, “Now everyone is used to the idea that we are connected [through the internet], and that’s not so interesting. If I had to guess why sites like Facebook are so popular, I would say it doesn’t have anything to do with networking at all. It’s voyeurism and exhibitionism.”
Do you feel that your online activity accurately represents you? Or, is it a cultivated persona? Is this a conscious decision that you’ve made?