From the moment we log in to any number of our social networks -- whether it's to post a status update or blog, share a photo or simply to comment on another person's post, our actions are immediately up for interpretation by all those watching. Our photoshopped pictures, calculated responses -- everything we do paints a portrait of us in someone else's mind, and even when our intentions are pure and honest, the image we give off will always be missing something important: the truth of who we really are.
Simply -- we cannot be known through our photo albums or through the descriptions we've crafted for ourselves in our "about me" sections. Even if we are able to engage hundreds of readers on a daily basis with our soul baring authenticity, we are still not showing who we are in real life.
We see ourselves and treat others like celebrities. Online, we are stories and images -- much more than we are actual human beings with feelings and vulnerabilities. There's a big difference between what we think we know about a person through social media and what we actually do know. It's just logistically impossible to truly know someone this way.
This is because when we are online we are disembodied presences. No bodies; no eye contact. Without the physical reality that makes up who we really are in our everyday life, we can never be anything more than a sensitive, humanized version of text and graphic design -- at best.
Of course, for many of us, the complete lack of physical confrontation is the appeal in its entirety. It can spark the desire in us to concentrate on and develop other aspects of our personality without the inhibitions that come along with having a distracting body to deal with. However, formlessness is not natural to us. We register it as incomplete, and so to compensate for what is missing, we create a faux body -- a replacement idea. This is where we veer off of being totally human and begin to reinvent ourselves as a brand. Once conceptualized, we can start to sell our pseudo-reality as product.
We then design a packaged persona made of attitude and imagery. We create atmosphere; we suggest danger, personality, playfulness, sexuality... and all of it is done to maintain our brand. Our social media lives are a nonstop ad campaign. We are the Mad Men as well as the product. We are selling a reality-based illusion.
And, we are also simultaneously the buyers of these illusions. Knowing the illusion we've been sold enables us to categorize according to our perception, so that when we come into contact with a particular person-brand, we know how to classify them, which sends a signal to us letting us know the scope and limit of how that interaction must play out.
The human product line of social media consists of some of these brands:
The Ranting Complainers -- those who exist simply to bitch and moan.
The Interesting Ones -- people whose updates make you think.
The Intelligencia -- those whose posts are so above your head that you're both intimidated and awestruck by the writer, if not put off by their pretense.
The Photo Bloggers -- communication done solely through memes and photographs.
The Truth Tellers -- the clever phrase-turners and nervy folk who dare to say what's on everybody's mind.
The Charismatic Ones -- people who can't help but attract a crowd no matter what they do.
The Ones You Stalk -- people you check in on regularly who have no idea you exist.
The Ones Who Stalk You -- need I say more?
The Mommy Bloggers -- all kid-related, all the time.
The Fluffies -- those who only post photos of kids, family, food or animals.
The Universe People -- only uplifting quotes and/or metaphysical observations.
The Politicos -- the most fiery of them all. Politics to die for.
The Rights People -- anyone who believes in a cause and basically posts only cause-related updates.
The Blurters -- those who say anything they want simply because they can.
The Taboo-ists -- those who say disgusting things just to gross us all out.
The Trolls -- stalkers/friends who feel compelled to destroy your world because they can't resist an empty comment box.
And, of course, The Easy-Going Noncommittal Types. -- these people never ruffle feathers or stir the pot. They never argue or provoke. They are the Zen masters of social media.
Of course, not everyone is restricted to being in just one of these categories. You can be in several, easily. But no matter how many categories you fall into, you'll never present as a whole person.
How the public perceives us is not only based on what we bring to the party -- it also depends upon how other people react towards us; what they say or how much space they take up on our page. So, this product that you thought you had some control over -- you're only a small portion of it. What people see when they visit your page is the entire picture, the picture you have no control over. They see the "you" image, the updates, the comments, the overall reaction to your presence, your degree of popularity, and with this information, you can then become -- in the minds of many total strangers -- a complete object.
You can now be humiliated, insulted, worshiped, adored, flirted with, challenged, defied, deified, demonized -- and all of it is possible because none of it is happening in a physical world. We don't treat each other this badly in real life.
In real life, if we spot a tear in someone's eye, we withhold from further assault. If we sense a boundary that has been trod upon, we retreat out of respect. It's a respect that we'd want reserved for us, if we were the one whose boundary was crossed wrongly. If we sat in a room with someone, we wouldn't scream at them, nor would we senselessly insult them just to hear our own voice -- most especially not if we saw we were causing that person sincere pain.
But -- in real life, we do not share space with strangers from the internet. And the worst thing we can do to our real relationships is check in through social networking to see how they're doing.
Real life, real friends, real family -- they belong in the real world. Hold tight to these people who have eyes and a body.
For people like me, I have to ask myself: Do I enjoy being a product? Do I enjoy being objectified? Is any of this worthwhile, this Facebook show in particular? All I can say is, it worked for me when I needed it to.
In a few minutes, I'm going to meet a friend for dinner. We'll laugh and share ideas. We'll talk about our children, our lives. She'll probably tease me about my all black clothes -- again. I'll tease her about her left-brained mentality -- again. I'll see the kindness in her eyes and she'll feel the warmth of my hug and we'll both feel safe, respected and centered, knowing that we literally brought our whole selves to the table.