Not Who I Say I Am

Do you think that your social profile is an accurate representation of who you are? Sure, we can learn a thing or two about individuals by reading their profiles, however, to what degree are these content feeds an accurate representation of self and to what degree are they calculated, overly filtered bullshit?
We’ve all done it – detagged hideous Facebook photos, retweeted articles we didn’t even fully read or perfectly crafted the words on our LinkedIn profile to make the ideal corporate elevator pitch. At the core, social media platforms are like diet versions of ourselves; you get the rough flavour, but don’t have to worry about any of the unhealthy sugars or fats. However, is there a digital aspartame that exists as a result of our social preening; one which, much like the chemical equivalent, raises large questions about a potential cancer growing within our society?
This is by no means a new phenomenon. Humans have been misrepresenting themselves in society since the dawn of man. The first cavemen likely exaggerated about the size of the mammoth they caught each time they told the story. There was a Pope who historians believe was a woman. Tchaikovsky supposedly had a thing for young boys. Einstein was a philanderer. Churchill was a big racist. Clinton inhaled. Clemens juiced. And each and every one of them went to grandiose efforts to cover up their social malfeasance.
However, we Millennials have been afforded a very unique situation through the advent of social media. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Youtube have enabled us to exchange more “rich” information than ever before, however, this information lacks important social context that people have typically used to develop an understanding of one another. Our misrepresentation exists under three very different conditions than that of previous generations.
First, social media depersonalizes communication and human interaction, making it incredibly difficult to gauge the authenticity. Simple things such as body language, vocal tone, eye movement and poise are pieces of information that we subconsciously process when speaking to another individual in order to frame the conversation. Through text, this information which I previously touted as being “rich” has suddenly lost all social context, leaving us with no way to gauge the intangible elements of in-person communication.
Second, social media has changed the very way we communicate. Whereas historical communication was typically an interaction between a small group of individuals (often two), social media has turned communication into a process of broadcasting and lurking. When posting on Facebook, we are broadcasting to hundreds or thousands of individuals and therefore, don’t frame our message for a tangible individual or group, but instead for a vague interpretation of what we call our network. Equally, when receiving information, we passively consume content: we lurk on Facebook photos, we scan through vast RSS feeds or tweets and we read up on a known or unknown individual’s social profile.
Lastly, electronic communication (social media, text, email) allows us to revise and edit our words to perfection before releasing them upon the world. Sure, this ability is fantastic when sending something off to a boss or client, however, it erodes one of the most important aspects of human life: failure. Blurting out the first thing that comes to mind in conversation can lead to awkwardness, confusion and embarrassment. Yet it is these very moments that break down our emotional walls and allow us to grow together. No one wants to live in a perfect, padded world where spontaneity is absent and things run like clockwork.
At least we still have auto-correct.
At the core, this change in communication manifests itself in one very simple but important takeaway: your social media profiles are not authentic representations of you. They are ideal aspirations of yourself that you consciously or subconsciously tailor for the whole world to consume and think better of you for it.
For organizations attempting to play in the social media sphere, this outlines an important learning about the value and quality of social graph data. For individuals trying to get to know one another and have genuine, honest relationships, this raises a frightening red flag about the way we interact and what this type of disingenuous communication may be doing to our society as a whole.
…Then again, I might be saying all of this just to appear smart.