Curating the Self in Social Media

Wednesday, 17th April 2019

Every time I think about writing about something on Facebook that really matters, I think about how that is even possible to do. Marshall McLuhan was surely at some level correct in saying that the medium is the message – this medium very much determines what can be written about and what can’t, or rather, what is likely to lead to a productive discussion and what won’t.

I’m reminded every time I come here of the necessity of having real, flesh and blood friends to talk to. The tragedy, I guess (and this is a general statement), is that it often seems that in professional and personal spaces that are more and more regimented, bureaucratized, and filled to the brim with the next imperative, those flesh and blood relationships are harder to maintain.

I used to think it was just a feature of getting older, but I’m not sure that those half my age aren’t feeling it too. When you give mindspace to curating yourself in social media, that can supplant rather than enhance flesh and blood. We start reading and believing our own press releases.

On my good days, I think that we just haven’t yet figured out how to exist in digital space yet. It’s still coming. On my bad days, I think, yeah, but not in my lifetime. I often think about how long it took for a rhetoric of print culture to develop after the printing press came into wide use. A couple of centuries, really. Until then, people tried to control it with laws or with economic sanctions and pressure on printers, but it was more like a weapon than a space of thinking and interacting.

This space is, if nothing else, a curated version of ourselves, and everyone does it differently. For some it appears personal, even confessional, and yet I suspect that even at that we all struggle with the contradiction between letting others in and protecting ourselves. After all, stuff in social media can be so easily misunderstood. At best people can think less of us; at worst our clumsiness or vulnerability can be released into the wild, to be trolled, mocked, and otherwise used against us.

I admire those who have a unique voice within this space. In some cases that voice might coincide with their own authenticity, and in others it might just be the equivalent of a really good party trick, the sort of thing that some introverts learn to do when in a public setting, after which they retreat home to recover from the strain. Others get good at vaguebooking, or taking on any of the well-rendered personas on social media – the know-it-all (whose statements usually start something like “Well, actually…” and are designed to make you feel like you’re back in kindergarten), the self-promoter (“Here’s my latest book/article/song/app/overthrown country”), the outrage machine (“CAN YOU BELIEVE IT!!!” – all caps are essential), the kitten with claws (“Love me! But if you cross me I will shred you.”), the narcissist (“FB is my mirror – please please please give me the best version of myself back.”), the TMI specialist (“my bowel movement today was especially satisfying…”), and a host of other characters from social media central casting. I’m sure I’ve been several of these, at different times.

I see the GBCW posts at times, and I sympathize. I think about just cutting off this space, as not just unproductive but potentially harmful and certainly fake much of the time. But I’m not gone yet. Even if this is not a space that I can see being all that confessional or personal, it is still a fluid and interesting rhetorical space. I do wonder, though, about the dynamic with the ways we find to curate ourselves in the flesh and blood. I have to say, I still prefer talking over a beer or glass of something, but that happens so rarely anymore. So instead, I curate this, which might be seen as confessional, and yet you’ll probably realize if you read this far that I’ve confessed almost nothing.

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