I regularly tutor a university unit dedicated to informing students about identity online, including concepts like digital footprints and digital shadows. Much of the discussion involves public and private content, and how privacy may be a thing of the past, though opinions are usually divided on that front. In the few years I’ve been involved with this unit I’ve seen a strong shift in perspectives from students coming through, which is interesting in and of itself. Many are more than happy to barter their data for free access to select social networks, whilst others resent the intrusion. It’s hard to say if this shift is real or imagined – it could simply be a shift in which group is more vocal with their opinion.
But every time the unit starts I remind myself that I’m not doing a great job managing my identity/ies (depending whether you’re a modernist or post-modernist thinker). I really don’t provide a good working example of what I’m teaching. I spend a lot of time censoring myself online, to keep private things private. Or conversely, I share everything and ‘damn the consequences’. I homogenise myself to be ‘generally palatable’, rather than making a stand with my interests.
This mentality has got to stop.
I’m an open sort of person – hence ‘open thoughts’ – but I used to also be an avid journaller when security measures were so easily managed on my beloved LiveJournal. I used to be able to write about all the mundane things that interested me and share my thoughts with a closed circle of friends; friends I became really close to because they were also writing about the flotsam and jetsam of their lives. LiveJournal was – and hopefully still is – the repository of shared human experience that takes more than three seconds to read. LiveJournal was visceral and emotional and real.
At some point Facebook and Twitter encroached on these close-knit circles of friends, other journal sites cropped up (Dreamwidth comes to mind), and everyone seemed to… grow up, at least according to two former LJ users. I think it’s more complicated than that, however. Lynch pin personalities drifted away (as lynch pins are so often the first to find something new), and circles fell apart around their voids; people grew up because LJ wasn’t there for them anymore. There wasn’t enough social glue to stick together.
Perhaps it’s part of the changing of the guard, from the original web to so-called web 2.0. Early adopters and transitional adopters seemed to make up the bulk of LiveJournal users whilst I was there – I, myself, an early adopter/transitional adopter of the web. We were still using handles and avatars and roleplaying and toying with our identities. We were complex and nuanced. We were interested and interesting. We were marvellous.
Now there is Facebook, which is full of reposts and meme-wank, and very little original content (also, I hate it). Or Twitter, which I love, but find I don’t have much time to be perpetually present. Twitter requires a greater time commitment to keep up than it does in writing and tweeting. I find I’m less and less interested, frequently tweeting and seldom sticking around to read what’s happening. I could look in on LiveJournal once a week, catch up on my friends posts, leave comments and a post of my own, and not have to sift through the wank and the noise to know what was happening in my friends’ lives.
My friends’ lives mattered more to me when they weren’t sandwiched between memes and quizzes. I am saddened by this realisation.
Social networks are fascinating creatures; a mostly organic ouroboros of trend setting and trend following. And the pressure to perform can be crippling, when ‘going viral’ may be the sole driving force for sharing anything.
“It could go viral, so I better watch what I write.”
“I want this to go viral, so I better watch what I write.”
“I want to belong with the people behind this hashtag. This hashtag is the song of my people!”
I miss the times when I didn’t need to ‘watch what I write’, when I could share the mundanity of my day, and shake off the detritus of my anxieties or aggravations with a group of people I know and trust. Now, it seems everyone is screaming into a vacuum: “Look at me! Look at what I’ve done! I am the product of what I share!”
Distributed identities is another concept we discuss, though more in terms of distributed content and conversation rather than identity specifically. But when we’re spread across social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, Instagram, G+ [if anyone is using that anymore], LiveJournal, WordPress, Blogger, Ello…etc.), managing different circles of friends and commensurate identities, we become like Bilbo’s last scraping of butter spread across too much bread.
I need to remix myself and set aside a space where I can, once again, write about what’s really on my mind. I need to shirk my homogeneity and reinvigorate my personal spaces. I’m going to get ‘real’ again.
I’m going back to LiveJournal.
(Approved accounts on open thoughts can read protected crossposts where I back-up my content.)