Hello. This is a post from the online Joseph Stashko. He’s perceptive, diligent and occasionally amusing. The online Joseph doesn’t bother anyone with moaning about his train being late, or getting a flat tyre on his bike. He hopes that he doesn’t inflict his irritating personality traits on the online audience, and while some of his shit-fits may occasionally make their way onto Facebook, he’s more or less a productive member of online communities.
Enough of writing in the third person. The concept I’m trying to explore is that often we present idealised versions of ourselves online. Far from being transparent, online activity can be restricted to the aspects of our personality we’d want people to admire us for rather than the more unsavoury traits. I sense that this because of two main reasons, the first being our own behaviour, and the second being the nature of the web.
People love to reinvent themselves. You see it when they join a new school, start university, begin a new job or enter a new social circle. It provides an opportunity to start afresh and to present yourself as an apotheosis of the person you’d like to be seen as.
The web can be seen as the embodiment of this type of behaviour. Each time we sign up to a new account online we are presented with a blank canvas onto which we illustrate with broad brush strokes a painting of our personalities from scratch. There’s no history and no secrets from the past. In essence, we get the chance to begin our digital life in the way we wish our real lives played out, with all the positives and none of the negatives, and who’d blame us? It’s rare that we ever experience anything that isn’t tainted by people’s preconceptions and personal prejudices. Our online counterparts discard this and present platonic conceptions of ourselves.
Some aspects of the web also encourage this type of behaviour by being so nice. As I glance through Twitter, I’m always confronted with a chumminess and a sense of camaraderie.
If people are only tweeting things seen through the prism of what they believe to be their admirable personality traits, then an artificial environment is created in which anyone saying anything untoward is deemed to be dour or unsavoury. It’s an unspoken fallacy that we should all be joyful and happy all the time, and empathise with everything we see. How can that possibly be realistic? Facebook’s lack of a “dislike” button confirms this. We are only able to “like” things or remain gracefully silent. There is no option to express disagreement.
Maybe those people who do are just more human? That’s the key here. It’s human to mess things up. Being callous, selfish and flawed are key human traits. I can count on two hands the people I know who act the same offline as they do online. Maybe that’s because they’re better communicators, and maybe people’s decision to upgrade their personalities online isn’t a conscious one. But logically following this argument, Twitter and online interaction can be fairly dehumanising, rendering us as broadly similar people, identikit vignettes on the tapestry of the web.
The open access and ability to judge people on their actions rather than their history means that people like Josh Halliday get a job with the Guardian. It means that people have been aware of my hyperlocal work. But who’s to say that there isn’t someone in a similar position to me, doing the same or better work but getting no recognition for it? I’m broadcasting things that I’m engaged in, because that’s the productive aspect of my personality. Who’s to say that if I stopped doing that and instead tweeted about my breakfast then people would stop taking notice of my work? Would that make my work any less valid or relevant? If a journalist writes an article and no one is around to read it, does it exist?
For my part, I’d rather inject more personality into my online persona, even if that means I annoy a few people along the way. If we disagree on the basis of links I post or beliefs that I hold, it’s unlikely that we’d get on in real life either. Far from wanting to be a deliberate polemiscist, I’d much prefer to have healthy disagreement and discourse that’s based on my true beliefs, and not just selective elements.