Facebook and the person within

This holiday season I have “read” many real life stories on Facebook.

A group of girls in evening dresses with cocktails in their hands smiling at the camera in a line on the 31st. Groups of people on snow covered mountain tops with their hands spread out in a posture that says we have conquered the world on the 29th. A photograph of one of those same girls in an individual picture, more awkwardly taken perhaps right before she went out, but with the full limelight, with a heap of laundry visible in the background.

Pictures that enhance the beauty of people just a little bit. These are accompanied by status updates on significant days that mention happening places or exotic food or crazy things that people are up to. And comments. “too cute,” “awwwww,” “u guyz r too cool.”

I confess I have engaged in some of these activities myself.

All of us today are writing accounts of our lives on social media as they happen. While we do that, we have to agree that there’s often a little bit of tweaking and airbrushing of lives involved here and there and the moment is recorded in a way that involves some fiction with the facts.

For fiction is life made just a little bit better, or worse, more concentrated, with the seeming randomness of life reduced to some kind of order in a plot. Going by this definition, we’re all doing it–writing fiction on social media.

Within some constraints, of course. Lives have to be always perfect. People have to be always smiling. More comedy than any other genre here.

Holiday decoration
Just like the holiday decoration at one of the windows at the Herald Square Macy’s in Manhattan Photo credit: Bottledworder

Yet, there are subtle differences in the way people like to project themselves on Facebook.

Represent the person within, so to speak. The person within ourselves that has to be displayed.

There is the loner who always appears by himself or herself in the pictures, writes forceful opinions about ideas or events or just cute observations about everyday matters expecting people’s reactions but rarely involving other people specifically in those updates. He is a loner but likes to exist to be viewed by other people.

By contrast, there is the person who almost never appears without others even in profile pictures. Fiances, a spouse, children or even a dog. This person’s status updates are almost never as opinionated or as cute with an individual voice but  the dog or the fiance is meant to point to interesting sub-plots in the person’s life.

Then there is the self-appointed buffoon who posts pictures full of distorted perspectives with faces too close to the camera, standing in odd positions. This person loves to project a youthful, happy-go-lucky image that says I’m interesting and funny. Rarely will this person post super-personal thoughts or opinions.

There is also the dabbler. The global traveller who dabbles in multiple cultures, posts pictures of  short stays or visits –foods, cathedrals, meadows, carnivals, complaints about airports–you name it. But embedded in this is a desire to be perceived as the old adventure hero, the doer, the one that has freed himself from the bounds of a specific place. This person comments with  supreme confidence on both what s/he has left behind and what s/he surveys.

I read a very funny blog post yesterday written as a breakup letter to Facebook from someone called Gary who is frustrated with Facebook and had decided to delete his account. Gary’s hilarious letter begins with conciliatory words: “It’s not you. It’s me.”  He alleges, in one of his super witty points about why he needs to end it with Facebook that  it’s led to “complicated relationship dynamics.”

You’ve always made me feel like I needed to make my posts and stories more interesting than they really are, so there you go, I made some minor adjustments in them. It’s not that the minor adjustments are lies you know, they are after all, just minor. I just want my “friends” to like my posts, isn’t it a noble motivation to alter, and in doing so fake a post? Everyone’s doing it, so nothing’s possibly wrong with it, right?

But of course they are. They are wrong. But I’d say wrong in the sense of inaccurate, not in the sense of immoral. An important difference.

The pictures and status updates are fiction. Facebook is fiction. But then, hasn’t social life always been part fiction? Don’t we always present a side to others that’s different from what we are, than the person within? Don’t we have the buffoon in every group, the adventurer, the loner, the person who embellishes what happened during summer vacation?

Who are we really? What are we being false about? Is there really a person within, our “true” selves that we’re being untrue to by posting lies? Or do we imagine fictional selves and in doing so, become our fictions?

This relationship between us and our social selves–it’s complicated. But is there another option, another way to be?

Who would the class buffoon be if you took away the buffoonery from him, the opinionated person if you took away her opinions, the adventurer if you took away his travels and the homemaker if you took away the home?

What would be left if you took away what these people saw themselves as? The person within?

The truth?

There is a vast range between absolute truths, if any exist, and absolute lies. In between is the realm of fiction.

Those are the fictions we’re writing and reading everyday on Facebook.

©bottledworder, 2013. https://bottledworder.wordpress.com
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28 thoughts on “Facebook and the person within”

  1. I think Facebook is just a virtual class reunion. Most people embellish their lives to seem interesting, In reality, if everyone where as happy and led such exciting lives as they claim, they wouldn’t have the time to recount everything on Facebook. I see these exaggerated veneers in most of my Facebook friends, beginning with the “six degree of separation” model that connects you with people whom you don’t really like in REAL LIFE. I have often questioned why I even received “friend requests” from people I couldn’t stand and who didn’t like me either.

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  2. This is a very interesting way of looking at social media. That social media could be compared to the type of clothes you wear – something to project an image of a version of yourself to the outside world.

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  3. Ah what a great post! I was just talking to a friend about this, and he decided to take a break for the new year from his smart phone and computer and not be a slave to social media.

    I often suffer from some form of embellishment on my face book. Definitely guilty of the dog thing! LOL. But, in all seriousness I use face book as a way to “keep in touch” with people that are not friends yet not total strangers. We’re not close enough to hang out often or talk on the phone( I hate talking on the phone) yet we still have strings of attachment and will annually have a group reunion of some sort. But, many many times these people post all happy go lucky photos and when I actually talk to them I find out their life is anything but happy.

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  4. Amazingly thoughtful post…and, totally true! I try to be myself as much as I can on my social media avenues, but I certainly don’t cuss as much. So, I suppose I’ve become a classier character of my original self to keep things more PG.

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  5. This is very, very true. I “gave up” Facebook over four months ago (except for the things I have set up to automatically re-post there, like my blog, or “liking” things), although I didn’t delete my account. I don’t get on there to see what everyone else is up to. I found that it simplified my life quite a bit. It allows me to focus on the things that truly matter.

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  6. A very thoughtful post. Perhaps we change roles from time to time, too. Your remark about making things out to be worse than they are covers those worrying “in the heat of the moment” posts, which I’d advise against.
    Sue

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  7. I’ve never done Facebook, so I can’t speak to how relationships work there. As far as blogs go, I don’t necessarily think that censoring is fictionalizing- sometimes it’s just a case of thinking of the ramifications (what’s online stays online for anyone and everyone to see.) In that way, I don’t think it’s any more fictionalized than the fronts we put up in our real lives. Basically, online, we know personal details of the people, but wouldn’t recognize them if we met them on the street and in real life, we know faces but not necessarily what lurks behind the smile and wave.

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  8. I really liked this, but I must admit it made me feel a little ashamed and vulnerable….at the thought of stripping way all the “stuff” that I use to define “me”. I use humour, most often to deflect and disguise the intensely insecure and lonely person that I am. I feel naked admitting that. All good food for thought though. Who are we “really” ? Thanks for sharing that. I will ponder it now. 🙂

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  9. I don’t think I’ve ever posted something with embellishment for more “likes” but I have definitely censored myself. I blogged about that … and I’ve deleted posts for that. I even tackled the “real person” revealed after I decided to let that censoring go–sort of a side-effect of steroids and sort of a “I’m not going to take it any more” horrible experiment. I’ve also given thought to the inadvertant associations all of our FB activity generates … is that the real us? That may be why I give up FB. I just want to keep in touch, not make a politcal statement, be preached at, permentantly bumper sticker that association on my profile. Just some thoughts…

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      1. It does make you wonder if by omission you are being fake … or as I pondered, if by omission I was attempting to be the person I want to be. Now other times you omit for the wrong reasons … like “what? I didn’t mention I still live at home? My bad.” I guess maybe it comes down to motive? I don’t know. It is so tricky.

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  10. We all have to decide how much of our “inner true self” we present online, whether on Facebook or on a blog.
    One point that maybe you and commenters didn’t make is that some people (I’ll include myself here), might find it easier to be truthful and revealing online than in person. For me, it’s often easier to express myself in writing than in a real-life situation, especially a social situation involving many people. I like both Facebook and blogs as an opportunity to share ideas that go beyond the superficial. I also like the “random” aspect of being able to connect with wonderful people and writers whose thoughts I would never share otherwise.

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    1. Yes. This is another angle, sort of the converse that hadn’t occurred to me. You often end up revealing more online than you would in person.

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  11. Nice post, I’m not much of a facebooker any more, I only use it to keep in touch with friends and family I don’t see. Oh, and thanks for dropping by and liking my post ‘I have an Idea-updated’. 🙂

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  12. Once I was giving my, then 5 year old, ‘life pointers’ based on my past experiences. His reply to me, “Truthful fiction, mom. It is all truthful fiction.” It is my musings that each of us are all these different persona’s and we perform out loud the one expected of us.

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  13. I honestly think that a large part of your identity is how you choose to present yourself. In person, on a blog, even on Facebook. We choose what we put out for others to see, in any medium. In that respect, I think the little lies some people tell are part of their own personal truth.
    Sorry if that makes absolutely no sense… those were my thoughts! Interesting post.

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  14. Great thoughts. I’ve been thinking a lot about this sort of thing. This really points to (especially at the end of the post) where we as individuals get our identities. Are they from what we do and the things we have or are they from something deeper? Is identity an “is” or a “did/have”? Passive or active?

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  15. I really enjoyed that letter too – and found it thought provoking!
    I doubt there is any one Truth about who we are. Just as there is motor intelligence, academic intelligence, musical intelligence (and so on) I have different people inside me – Maiden, mother, crone at the very least! And also employee, friend, writer, knitter and couch potato. They are all true and all create my personal life tapestry.
    Too deep for a Friday night! Off to a pub quiz instead!

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