My relationship with computers, and specifically social media, has deepened throughout my life, resulting in major connections between my identity and my presence/presentation online.
I remember going to the store with my mother as a five-year-old, helping her to pick out our first computer. It was a tan, clunky computer with a large, boxy monitor. After getting a family friend to set up the computer for us, I hopped onto Internet Explorer to visit pbskids.org, where I could play games that would test the limits of our dial-up connection. For the first few years of my computer use, I spent my time at home playing online and CD-ROM games. Some of my time at school was also spent in computer class, learning how to type. I distinctly remember typing my first “paper” on the computer in third grade: after several written drafts based on a few Google searches, I typed up a page about the planet Neptune. My teacher laminated a printed copy, and my mother still has it.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user moyix.
My first engagement with social media happened around fifth grade, with the rise of AOL Instant Messenger (AIM). Instant messenger was the way to have conversations with peers in an informal, seemingly private context. This sense of privacy opened up space for extended conversations after school, and also, for some formative moments in my middle school friendships. It also worked to create some dramatic moments, as I realized that what I typed to friends was saved in chat logs on the AIM application, allowing friends to go back, re-read, and copy-paste things that I had typed to them in the moment, assuming that these in-the-moment thoughts wouldn’t be revisited. Since these experiences, I’ve become a bit more careful about what I say in online spaces—even if it seems to be a casual environment, I want to make sure that I have an understanding of how the things I say will exist beyond my conversations.
Self-Presentation and Interaction
At this point, I’ve shifted to using Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and Instagram primarily, occasionally chatting with friends using Gchat. Taking into account my presence on each of these sites, I can see noticeable differences in the way that I present myself and the way that I interact with others, all completely dependent upon the form of social media that I’m working with.
For example, on Facebook, I find myself using statuses as an opportunity to make jokes and informally share humorous anecdotes, but also as a chance to present my political ideas by sharing articles and links that I like. Facebook is a chance for me to get validation for my ideas and experiences as well, since many of my posts garner “likes” and comments from friends. It’s interesting to me how I automatically use the number of “likes” on a post as a metric for the general relevancy of that post (and in turn, that particular aspect of my life that I’ve chosen to share on Facebook). The strange thing about Facebook for me is that the popularity of a post is potentially publicly measured through “likes.” In my own use, it seems like the number of “likes” that I receive on a post serve as personal validation at times. However, one journalist tried to play with Facebook’s algorithms (the same algorithms discussed and critiqued in “What Happens to #Ferguson Affects Ferguson”) by liking everything that came across his newsfeed, and the algorithms responded by pushing up marketing and brands, suggesting that “likes” may not actually be measures of my Facebook friends’ approval.
On Twitter and Tumblr, most of the interactions that I have are retweets or reblogs of what others have posted. I am less-inclined to post my original photos or anecdotes on Twitter or Tumblr because I feel like most of my connections on these platforms are individuals that I don’t know personally. I operate on the assumption that my Facebook friends (who are mostly real-world friends and acquaintances) are much more interested and willing to engage with my experiences and viewpoints than my Twitter/Tumblr followers. The network of semi-anonymous users and looser connections is something that serves as a relief for me, allowing me to feel comfortable in the online space, but there are also concerns of privacy and safety that cross my mind occasionally when using these platforms.
In my real-life interactions, I’ve had several acquaintances comment on things that I share about my life on Facebook. I believe that my identity and my real-life interactions with friends are very much linked to the image that I’ve constructed for myself on Facebook. Learning how to find a balance between sharing and oversharing has been a challenge for me at times, especially as I grow increasingly suspicious of information security online. I worry that what I post will be permanently linked to my real-life identity permanently, or that the personal information that I share with Facebook friends will somehow be accessed by strangers or malicious individuals (like identity thieves or hackers). I’m currently working through the dilemmas of convenience versus security: by using things like Venmo and online banking apps, am I putting myself at greater risk for identity theft or predatory online behaviors from others? It’s unclear to me at the moment, but for now, I’m happy to continue sharing aspects of my life with my real life friends, utilizing Facebook as a means of bridging real-life gaps of space and time.
Honan, Mat. 11 August 2014. “I Liked Everything I Saw on Facebook for Two Days. Here’s What it Did to Me.” Wired. http://www.wired.com/2014/08/i-liked-everything-i-saw-on-facebook-for-two-days-heres-what-it-did-to-me/
Tufekci, Zeynep. 2014. “What Happens to #Ferguson Affects Ferguson.” Medium. https://medium.com/message/ferguson-is-also-a-net-neutrality-issue-6d2f3db51eb0