Oh social media. So much of it lambasted for cultural demise, yet it’s just a current way to do what people have done for centuries, which is self-fashion. As the European monarchs of old had self portraits painted in very particular ways of presenting themselves and their power, as autobiographers have carefully edited their lives to print and sell to the masses, so Facebook and Instagram serve as the common man’s modern equivalent.
Because we have easy access to present ourselves, the ability to literally create a persona of whoever we want to be is possible (though the reality of ourselves will always be apparent to those who actually interact with us). Additionally, we have easy access to…everyone else. So to create ourselves online, we have a virtual “closet” of personalities to try on and present to the world. We have YouTube videos of celebrities giving detailed interviews in which we can see their personalities up close, and see who we relate to (or want to relate to). We have BuzzFeed to help us feel overly confidant in our quirks, such as eating way too much, hating exercising, loving Netflix, and embracing our awkwardness. We have Pinterest to show us awesome hairstyles and outfits that we can try to emulate. And then Instagram and Facebook serve as the vehicle to present these incredible versions of ourselves through our carefully crafted, precisely filtered, photos.
Minus the postings while inebriated, I don’t think any of us post things flippantly. We take time. We carefully consider. All because we care what people think. With the apparent blank canvas in front of us, who wouldn’t want to present the persona we want people to have of us? In the past, people would have to be content that the awkward, foot-in-the-mouth comment would be remembered forever. That the times we ran into work with messy hair and dirty clothes because we overslept was the only image people had in their minds of us. Now, we have the ability to think long and hard before adding our thoughts into a political discussion on gay marriage or… on someone’s new baby. Now we can put those beautiful, professionally photographed pictures up and await the compliments to start rolling in. Sure, we may be a certain way in person, but if those around us spend time seeing a specific “us” online, that image may stick with them. Especially given the amount of time most of us do spend online, it may be fair to say that online personas really do account for our ultimate evaluation of a person.
This begs the question: I wonder who we would be if we didn’t have access to all of this? Are the boundaries of our personalities, character, and true nature simply expanded by being able to consider a myriad of possibilities, or do we lose ourselves somewhere along the way? I don’t know that there’s a clear answer, but I know the historians of the future will have much fodder for discussion based on our social media profiles of the early digital age. Certainly it will be much more fun and salacious than discussing the past ornate portraits of the elite.