Online Personalities And Personas

Let’s start this one of with an apology. Apologies go out to my wife today. Let me tell you why. This morning my wife started a conversation that caught me by surprise. She says to me, “I read your blog post last night.”

There was something in her voice that made me pay attention.

“Okay,” I ventured.

“I noticed how you listed cooking and cleaning and a bunch of other things that have kept you busy.”

“That’s true enough.”

“People are going to think I’m not doing anything around here,” she said.

I paused for a minute to think about that. “Huh,” I said. I could totally see her point. The way I stated the things that were keeping me busy, it did sound like I was single-handedly running the house. Which is totally not the case. We’ve both been crazy busy, with work, kids, cooking, cleaning, doctor’s appointments, rehearsals, managing homework, and trying to find a little time for each other and for ourselves. It’s a joint effort here.

But her words made me realize that what gets written online is sometimes misinterpreted, sometimes misunderstood, and sometimes conscious mis-direction. It reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend about a month ago. We were talking about all manner of things (it had been a while since we’d caught up) and one of the topics we landed on was about online personas.

We ranged over the friends we have in common online; the one still stuck in the past, but whose posts are as honest as the day is long; the one who posts constant updates about everything; the political one; the one who’s always trying to win the internet; the snarky one; the one who can’t quite get the hang of how the whole works (like that esurance commercial); the one who only posts funny pictures; the confessor; the professor. The list goes on and on. There’s a personality out there for each and every type of person posting on social media. Odds are you know someone like the few I mentioned above or are one yourself. (I tend to go back and forth between the one who posts pictures and the snarky one.)

It’s made me wonder what is the true purpose of social media? Is it to socialize online? Is it to promote yourself in some way, as if your were your only brand? Is it to constantly remind us that just about any meme that features the Dos Equis guy is hilarious?

I started to think down the road of self-promotion. About how people brag about themselves online, even if they’re trying not to. There’s even a word for it now: humblebrag.

I don’t think it’s a big secret that people brag about themselves online. We all do it. Hell, one of the reasons I started blogging in earnest was to be able to promote my self-published fiction. And the big question that seems to be getting asked now is, how much is too much? There are all kinds of article on the topic. Want some? Here are a smattering:
http://www.upstart.net.au/2013/10/30/self-promotion-through-social-media/
http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57583450-93/social-media-self-promotion-the-urge-the-ick-the-outcome/
http://socialmediatoday.com/curtis-harrison/1596496/it-s-social-media-not-me-media
http://adage.com/article/small-agency-diary/social-media-s-potential-drowning-promotion/233776/

I remember hearing a story about one media reporter saying her friends would tell “your life seems so great!” to which she replied, “that’s because you only see the good stuff, cause that’s all I post.”

I was preparing an argument as to why this phenomenon is bad, why people who only present one side of themselves drive me nuts and are probably fooling themselves. It’s not that I want people to air all their dirty laundry in public, but do we really believe that, even in our kvetching, we’re all having a grand old time?

But then I stopped to wonder: is self-promotion one of the ways we social with people? And if so, is it so bad a thing? If you’re out for drinks with a friend, the conversation is going to wander through all kinds of avenues. You’re gonna flash back to twenty years ago, you’re gonna brag about something you did or accomplished or that your kids did, you might talk (yell) about politics, you’re gonna talk about the mindless day to day shit. Because all of these things are a part of who we are as humans. We’re social animals and all of these things are things that we do and need to do to keep from losing our marbles.

The articles above talk about the various reasons why we do it, but mostly it boils down to trying to find a way to stand out in an increasingly loud, visually-overloaded world. Andy Warhol promised us fifteen minutes of fame in the future. Social media seems to be how we’ll get it.

There are lots of people out there bragging about themselves, building a brand, trying to be seen and get heard. Can’t lie, I’m one of them. I want people to buy my book, I want people to read it, I want people to enjoy it and have conversations with me about it. I guess that means I want to become my own brand. Maybe.

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