Social media and characters

I’ve been overcome by a sense of wonder lately at how different people can be, well, different.  A newer shade of awe regarding the diversity of human character has deepened this feeling more recently because of the changes in our social topography thanks to social media.

How many different ways have now emerged to get to know people from different angles! How many more ways to  gain access to their deepest selves, to the inner workings of their minds and to their momentary thoughts and feelings and to the general trends of their character!

Deziple Character
Deziple Character (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few days ago, for example, I wrote a post  in which I wondered why people might feel the need to put up pictures on their walls and what it might say about them. At some point a few days later, it was very late at night and I was just browsing my blog  when an orange notification of a comment popped up. Someone had commented!

In the comment the reader said something that never would have occurred to me. Whenever he sees a picture, he wants to put himself in it. Or rather, he only hangs pictures that he can imagine himself in. He meant that he only puts up things that resonates with him (not that he is a self-obsessed narcissist, of course!)

It was just a casual comment but it got me thinking. How many different ways thoughts travel on the internet! How many different  kinds of people there are here! And how many new ways to capture their momentary thoughts, aspects of their personalities and shades of their aggregate selves that you would never have realized if you passed them on the street with a simple “hi” or “hello” in front of the grocery store or at the gas station!

This reader was so different from me and yet he was thinking of the same things albeit in a different way, from a different direction. For instance, if there was a picture of me on the wall, I’d want to remove myself from it as fast as I could let alone imagine myself in it. Even a casual reflection on the glass frame of a picture makes me uncomfortable. I don’t like the idea of me looking back at me somehow. But not him!

So when I had written that post, I had only focused on why a person would hang a picture on the wall rather than how a person would want to be seen on the wall. What did that say about me?

But my idea had been taken up by someone quite different from me and had he written the post, he would have turned it into something else! Maybe someone is writing that post somewhere else in the world right now, even as I write this one.

These would be unknown people.

But the known person sometimes emerges in unknown ways on social media too. You discover aspects of known people on social media that sometimes “explains” them, makes aspects of their character clearer or even explains the reasons why you have a relationship  with them  at all in very deep ways. You may have known them for years but this aspect may not have emerged until you both signed up on Facebook and had enough of a social circle to post things.

The other day, someone posted a picture of a little girl, a friend’s daughter, very prettily dressed in a sari for some festive occasion or party on Facebook. She is only about five. So ordinarily she is always in kiddie dresses. The difference from her usual self in such a grown-up, grand attire was striking to the camera.

Many common friends commented. Pretty, cute, beautiful. The usual words. I was thinking the same, except with the mental addendum “Hmm! Does that make us old” with a mental smiley face attached, of course!

Sure enough another comment popped up soon from a common friend–“How pretty and grown up! She’s a little lady now. Remember, that makes us old ladies!” Smiley face. Facebook’s new emoticon.

Nice and witty! That was my instant reaction.

It was then that I thought about how I had felt a connection to this common friend all these years. How I had always thought that she was interesting. But I had never analyzed or observed closely why.

Cute Yorkie
Awwwww! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here was an almost visual demonstration in real time about why. Wit? My kind of wit? More rigorous about things than others? Not afraid to take a bit of a risk of embarrassment in case the joke fell flat? Do I admire these qualities in people? Does it just say something about myself– that I can never be the person to simply say “awwwww” or “cute” or “sho swhweeet!!!” on baby pictures, engagement pictures and forwarded pictures of cute puppies? Maybe these are small ways in which social media reveals hitherto not so clearly thought out  aspects of known people and ourselves and our relationships to others!

It’s not as though any of us are or become completely the momentary texts and pictures and likes we generate on social media. Real life is too complex and our newly emerged social media selves are only one aspect of it. This one aspect does not dominate our personalities when you meet us on the street.

But on social media, you see these aspects so clearly, character traits that often define or underlie other traits that remain hidden in the humdrum of life. That makes our social selves a real part of our real life, if nothing else.

So when I see people on social media, it’s like seeing them inside out, watching the inner workings of character more clearly. That’s fascinating for an observer of life like me.

©bottledworder, 2013.
Share to show you care but with attribution only for non-commercial purposes. No derivative works.

More posts on social media:

How reading has become more social
Facebook and old photographs
Facebook, love, and fiction

26 thoughts on “Social media and characters”

  1. Great post! I see clear groups on social media – one set who are always posting updates or photos (mostly of self!) and the other lot happily reading other people’s posts and photos and maybe “liking” things. The first set is interesting… are they narcissists or do they lack self-confidence so always feel the need for external endorsements of their looks/actions/thoughts? Or are they busy painting a picture of how they want others to see them?


  2. “Quote – But on social media, you see these aspects so clearly, character traits that often define or underlie other traits that remain hidden in the humdrum of life. That makes our social selves a real part of our real life, if nothing else. ”

    What I find interesting the most about this aspect of the hidden. Especially when you go to Forums or places regarding competition rather than co-operation – how viscious and vile people who disagree with each other can be.

    It gets me to thinking – what would happen if I stuck these two people in the same room together and left them alone where there would be no repercussions to action. Would I come back later and find them at each others throats? Would they devolve in to the same senseless bickering that we see all over the competitive world? I don’t know, but I think these underlying aspects become much more noticed and, for whatever reason, acceptable when we categorize it as ‘only online.’

    Just some thoughts.


  3. The good and bad of social media is the sense of ‘disconnect’ we have with our audience even as we ‘connect’ to more people. So often we are sharing more of ourselves with more people (even strangers), even as we sit alone at a keyboard.
    It’s a great way to learn new things about people you thought you knew, but there is a danger as well.
    Even the most ‘security savvy’ people will expose more of their true nature than they realize. And they often do it without the direct and often moderating feedback of a face-to-face interaction. It is hard to know what people will pick up on, or how they will react. It is hard to ‘un-do’ something once it is posted for the world to see.
    The same phenomenon of false security happens inside cars, where people feel perfectly free to sing along with the radio or pick their noses… things they would never do face to face with the people in the same room.


  4. I love this post, During my grandparents living days, I would go to their house and see this beautiful painting of a tree-lined street off setting a residential neighborhood; and wondered whose house is that? Or I wonder what inspired this portrait, but I felt a sense of comfort every time I looked at it. And that’s the same way I feel regarding social media…it’s nice to share thoughts and have intelligent conversation you actually can learn from or be inspired by.


  5. You’ve left me with the tought I could use the Social Media so much more to inspire my writing, there’ so much there that could be developed into interesting stories.


  6. A wonderful observational post! I am saddened by the way some folks show up on social media. The coarseness of their language and the stabs they take at others make me steer clear of them. I have friends whom are wonderful people, but you wouldn’t know it by their Tweets and Replies.

    It’s easy to hide behind a computer or phone and take shots at people…or is it the cowards way?


    Linda Joyce


  7. Interesting concept..that social media opens us up from the “inside out”. This makes you really think about a bloggers “focus” or a social media posters “intent”. Authors of our day and before often tried to hide their “real self” with a pen name or even multiple pen names, hoping to not be judged by their writing genre/topics but instead revered for content. And now it seems authors or bloggers or even magazine journalists put their entire lives on the internet or elsewhere to be viewed, judged and sometimes idolized. Food for thought,..Thank you:)


  8. “when I see people on social media, it’s like seeing them inside out, watching the inner workings of character more clearly”

    I like that , but then it is a little scary thinking about it. When I began blogging 11 months ago, I wanted to open myself in ways I had never done before . Reaction of some close friends has been uniquely different . When someone thought they knew me and than read about some inner struggle I was having it made me vulnerable, but its been worth it.


  9. Most think of social media as mindless activity. But I find that occasionally the anonimity of it some times lead people to reveal a deeper side of self. Sometimes without really meaning to.

    Nice post.


  10. Very interesting viewpoint.

    I have started using more social media recently after years of only posting in fora and assays into blogging; I might even join Facebook in the next few years. 🙂

    I wonder if there is a character insight in the spaces between updates. I do not have access to the internet as a matter of course. Even when I am at home I only check updates on my desktop (and then occasionally rather than running in the background), so am intermittently on them. So my Twitter stream contains a mixture of thoughts had while checking Twitter and things that were important enough to remember until I next accessed it.


  11. I really liked what you said here. I have never had one of those social media things where I’m supposed to put pictures up and so on, and I’ve always thought of them as a bit dumb. You’ve given it quite a positive spin… But I’ll continue in my own way 🙂


  12. Thank you for liking my latest post!

    And this was very intersting. Personally I have become more fascinated with social media lately because it’s still such a new phenomenon, yet it is another dimension of ourselves and our lives now. It’s parallell to our normal lives all the time, and, at least for me, I socialise with my friends throughout the day on Facebook.

    A few weeks back I commented to my mum that before Internet one was alone when not actively seeing other people. Today this is not the case. You are only alone if you turn off your computer AND smartphone, otherwise you are always connected to everybody else. I find this a bit disturbing, yet it’s hard to do exactly that and cut myself off for periods of time.

    Anyway, interesting to read another person’s thoughts about aspects of the social media!


  13. Everyone is always bashing social media, and here you are putting a positive spin on it which is refreshing. 🙂
    I agree that if not for social media, non-close friends don’t get past some superficial connection of “hi,” and “bye.” The problem lies with social media when people are not able to use their body language to convey messages, and their words and smiley faces don’t do the job adequately… then others may misinterpret their cryptic or even rambling comment. Thus, seeing the “side” of said person may be the “wrong” perception..
    But your points are well taken!


  14. Great post. Interesting because I actually think the opposite. In social media, I think we see a fraction of people, a tiny piece, that the writer chooses to reveal. People are far too complex to know them from a blurb on Facebook, twitter, or any other source. I’m not saying you can’t get a glimpse, but that is just the way I think, which after all, is what makes people beautiful: our multi-layered personalities.


  15. Nicely said. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the inconsistencies of being human and that many people around us tend to want to have a picture in their heads that they can comfortably label as the person they know. Often people are discomfited to find traits or behaviors within that individual that don’t fit their picture. They then say with some bewilderment, “That’s not like her!” When, in fact, it is ‘like her’ at that moment. The immediacy of social media posts allows us to express our inconsistencies and personas that may exist only for that moment but which influence and inform the soup of our selves ever after because they existed for that one nanosecond. Thanks for the thoughtful post!


  16. While reading the comments made on other people’s blogs, there are times when I must read a comment over and over before I can make any sense of it. The comment’s author is so different from me that their very thoughts seem incomprehensible. The only thing we share is the act of reading a particular post.
    I wonder if I met one of these people in real life, would we be able to speak to each other? Or would we each think the other is speaking another language? Social Media expands our circles past the point of familiarity and into a place where we can not assume that we will be understood.


  17. That’s an interesting thought about photos. I was thinking the same thing the other day about how amazing it is that there are so many different types of people in the world that I have become exposed to through social media! It’s a whole new world of possibilities it’s quite exciting!


  18. I agree. Atleast for me, Facebook has helped me discover which people are similar to me either in values, beliefs or just silly things we have in common. Then I understand why ai am more drawn to some than others. Great post!


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