Ohhh, time to fill out another bulletin about me. Aren’t these things stupid? Whatever, I’m incredibly bored so I’ll give it a go. Siiggghh….Who knows why I fill these things out.
Answer each question honestly, with the first thing that comes to mind.
Last thing you drank: Tree Top Apple Juice (yum)
Last Person you hugged: Girlfriend
What you want to do now: sleep
Last time you cried: IDK, can’t remember
Ever read something like that in a Myspace bulletin? Have you ever been the person to send those ubiquitous “about me survey” bulletins? Chances are you’ve seen and/or sent many of them. The “25 random things about me” meme on Facebook is the current reincarnation of this “about me” spirit.
We may say we are annoyed by them (Notice the feigned disinterest in the beginning. We have an irresistible urge to manage the appearance of vanity, so we act like we don’t care), but really, we like them. After all, our favorite thing to talk about is “me.”
On the one hand, this all reflects a good human desire: the desire to be known. Authenticity is all the rage these days. We want to be real, up front, and honest with people. If I cried yesterday watching The Batchelor, then it’s ok (and even desirable) for people to know that.
Life is messy. I’m messy. That’s ok.
On the other hand, what we don’t realize is that the “New Media” has changed the way we define authenticity. Now, you can pass for being authentic by managing a sly substitute.
Outside of cyberspace, a tremendous amount of communication is conveyed by the “non-verbals.” A look in the eye; An odd facial expression; a tone of voice. Even where someone’s feet point can communicate a ton. Though some people can pull it off partially, it is hard to truly hide in face-to-face community. Authenticity in this embodied context is thus very robust.
In the world forged by “New Media,” by contrast, this nuance in community is lost, and hence it becomes very easy to manage what others see. You only provide the facts you want others to know. Matthew Lee Anderson states,
It is crucial in communication–whether in person or online–to be as authentic as possible. As new media are communally oriented, authenticity and honesty take on added importance. But online communication places us in charge of our own self-presentation. Even when we act ‘authentically’ online, we act at our own discretion. In interpersonal communication, however, controlling our self-presentation is much more difficult, if not impossible. The astute and familiar observer can hear the subtle differences in tone that indicate contentment or anxiety, peace or frustration, just as the astute observer can see subtle differences in the face that betray the truth about a person’s real state of mind…In interpersonal communication, we communicate more than we consciously intend…very few of us have the ability to hide ourselves as well as we think….(this) doesn’t prevent us from trying to control when and how we disclose ourselves to the world…
This idea, though, that we can selectively self-disclose and control our own ‘authenticity’ is the sort of problematic value that the new media reinforce. (The New Media Frontier, Ed. by Roger Overton and John Mark Reynolds)
I see this faux authenticity played out in the “about me/25 things” bulletins and notes. We say it’s real; we say it’s 25 “random” things. But it’s not…each is carefully selected to project a certain persona to the world. Even the show of disinterest in the beginning is carefully selected…we take pride in our shows of humility.
Also notice the trivial nature of many of the disclosures (example: what I last drank). This has snuck into our definition of “being real” too.
This shallow authenticity is not impossible in the embodied community, but it’s very, very difficult. It’s much easier online. As Anderson points out, online communities reinforce our valuing of this thin self-presentation.
Even though Facebook and Myspace have brought good changes, we should pause to think about this and other ideas and values inherent in the medium.
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Blogging: an Incredible Opportunity
Electronic Media Immersion: Some Suggestions
Distracted to Death
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