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Friday, May 13, 2011

Authenticity Online

Some people think that Facebook is killing authenticity online. Blogger Steve Cheney says:

The problem with tying internet-wide identity to a broadcast network like Facebook is that people don’t want one normalized identity, either in real life, or virtually.

People yearn to be individuals. They want to be authentic. They have numerous different groups of real-life friends. They stylize conversations. They are emotional and have an innate need to connect on different levels with different people. This is because humans are born with an instinctual desire to understand the broader context of their surroundings and build rapport, a social awareness often called emotional intelligence.

To an extent I agree. We don't tend to want the same identity from one social sphere to the next. We'll be one person at work, another at home and still another with our friends. Going online allows us to be whomever we want. We can invent a persona that plays World of Warcraft and is a foul-mouthed tough, online. But then we go to our day-job as a preacher with lots of piety.

Cheney thinks that keeping the boundaries between social spheres allows us to be more authentic. It allows us to share what we really think online when we know that our spheres aren't co-mingling. Here's where I start to disagree. The co-mingling of all our social interactions is actually forcing us to be more authentic. We need to be the same person at work, home, school, church or playing video-games online. Instead of being trapped in shallow identities that define us in one sphere, but don't really have anything to do with the rest of our lives, we can be whole people.

Maybe I can't unleash my snarky comments on a tech website or a string of expletives while gaming, if all of that is connected to social media. What if knowing that my mom is watching me online is actually helping me to be a better person, more authentic and whole? I know that I say things that are offensive or difficult for some people, but I don't say them to be offensive, I say them because they come from me. That's more authentic than a dozen separate profiles and as many separate identities that I have to keep up with. I just get to be a whole person, authentically me.

How do you think Facebook helps or hinders authenticity?

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