“...because you’re also creating something for others’ consumption, you find yourself imagining and playing to your audience more and more. So those moments in which you’re supposed to be showing your true self become a performance. Your psychology becomes a performance.”
via nytimes.comI just read this excellent article on NYTimes.com, and it really made me think about how social media changes how we think. Someone (I think it was @pixelRN) once tweeted that she was trying to explain Twitter to her mother, and her mother said, "I don't get it. Wouldn't you always be tweeting 'I'm sitting here at the computer twittering?'" I thought about that while I read the article (are we always wrapped up in a strange Twitter warp as we tweet about what we're doing but not really, since we are NOT tweeting "I'm tweeting"?). I also recently read The Facebook Effect [Amazon link], and it made me ponder Zuckerberg's ideas about radical transparency, so I poked around on the Web and found some really interesting blog posts on the subject (my favorite is this one by Danah Boyd; it has almost 100 comments, many of which are nearly as thought provoking as the post).
It has always been obvious to me that we create our own personas on social media. Otherwise we wouldn't have started out on the Internet with IRC and AOL handles like "noodle783." We would always have used our real names and said what we really looked like and where we live. We didn't. Now we are. Facebook is forcing us into it and then switching the rules by letting our private details slip out, and we help them out by telling them all about ourselves and even using location-based applications to let everyone know where we are all the time. But the NYTimes article and other literature emerging on these topics indicates that we're going really far beyond that and actually changing the way we think on the basis of what we plan to say about it on our various social media platforms---much the way Sapir and Whorf (they've been debunked [Wikipedia link], but I always liked the idea and secretly think it has merit) hypothesized many moons ago that our language shapes the way we think (eg, the classic example that Eskimos experience snow differently from Floridians because they have a dozen words, or however many, for different types of snow).
That's heavy duty. So I had basically two questions: is it the case? And is it bad? On further reflection I decided it is the case for me. My boyfriend and I can often be heard saying, triumphantly, "I'm totally going to tweet that!" or deliberating on whether or not something is tweetable. We argue constantly over what can and should be shared on Facebook. (How important is it, for example, to tag someone in your relationship status? I'm pretty sure this wasn't a topic of hot debate 10 years ago.) I take a lot of photos, and about half the time when I shoot a photo one consideration is whether I think people on Flickr or Twitter will be interested in it. I paid a lot of money to have my iPhone available to me in Europe so I could share my experiences traveling.
Social media has also changed my psychology insofar as the way I look at friends. Twitter and bloggery have broadened my pool of available friends to the point that I communicate more often with people I have never met in real life than I do with some I have. I can already hear the gasps of horror, but think about it. I'm thrown together with people physically near me for work or one or two other common activities, and that's often all we have in common. Online I have access to a huge group of people with whom I share a number of important similarities. I am not at all interested in my high school friends' lives. I was bored with their lives when I was IN high school. But I'm interested in what my Twitter buddies are up to. Why? Because many of them are nurses or geeks or photographers and we identify strongly in some way with each other. This one aspect may actually be the main way for me that social media has changed my psychology. My boyfriend unhesitatingly canceled his Twitter account after his boss noticed it (he was checking into work from Foursquare; clearly I failed at my social media tutelage), and I was appalled. I wondered what I would do if I were TOLD to cancel mine. It's no longer a matter of principle but one of tangible reward with me. I would wonder if @jgamet was wearing pants as often as he should, what @ozrose was doing in Australia, and what antics @Geek2Nurse's hypothetical patients were up to. I *like* reading the mundane details of other nurses' lives, and I like reading tweets from real-life friends, many of whom, by the way, are real-life friends because we met through Twitter. Because of common interests. Like I said.
Regarding my second question ("is it bad?"), my answer is a guarded "no." I think social media has a lot of issues right now, the main one of which that is currently salient to me is the potential for social media drama. Facebook has caused me a lot of real-life drama and some tangible losses and problems. That's a change in psychology because I almost feel sometimes like I'm shadow-boxing with an alternate universe. I think constantly about privacy issues and sharing, which is a change in my psyche as well, because before social media I never had occasion to do that. But the point brought up in the NYTimes article, that tweeting about a moment somehow decreases its experience, is really arguable for me. I find in contrast that since the advent of microblogging and easy sharing of photos, thoughts, and links, I pay more attention and more often than not experience things more fully than I did before. BECAUSE I'm tweeting about them. Are all tweets important? Obviously not. Do I waste time on Twitter? Obviously so. But I definitely notice the world around me much more than I did before I started sharing 140-character slices of it with the world at large.
I can tell I'll be reading the books coming out on these topics (they're finally starting to emerge). I'll be reading them on my iPad, checking into them on GetGlue, and twittering about what I think about them. Will that change how I feel about what I read, because I know I'll be sharing my thoughts publicly? I'll let you know.