Identity, Facebook post privacy, Goffman and The Presentation of Self online.

So I’ve haven’t written for over 18 months! Life happened, so I had to put my studies on hold.  I haven’t returned to study yet, but it’s definitely still part of my life plan. In the meantime, I’m happy with the fact that I have completed my Honours in Anthropology and am now a qualified anthropologist! The postgrad studies will just be the cake topper! When I put my studies on hold, I thought I would really miss it, but it turned out that I really needed the break. I’d been studying at university for a good 10 years. Taking a step back, focusing on my mental health and physical health for a bit, and with other stuff happening that I won’t go into on here, I had to reassess what was right for me. Along the line I’ve been following the journeys of academic friends doing their research and feeling my anthro-sense tingling when reading anthropological material related to my personal interests (sci fi, internet, identity, powerlifting). Even just talking with friends or providing advice in regards to academic stuff has got my brain buzzing, but it’s only in the last 24 hours that I’ve finally felt the urge to write something. I normally only write stuff when I have a topic to write on, such as for an essay or thesis. So this burst of inspiration is exciting. Forgive me if you have already read similar stuff elsewhere, but in the world of academia, it’s not uncommon to find shared ideas. That’s one of the exciting parts about it all. Sharing ideas and offering your own slant on the issue, that’s what makes it original. So here goes!

Last night I was thinking about the things that we share on social media. If you’re as old as I am and a geek, you’ll probably remember the days of Internet Relay Chat (IRC). For those playing along at home, IRC is a form of computer-mediated communication (CMC) whereby you would log on to an IRC server and speak to other people in groups (what were called channels). It was purely text-based (unless you used Comic Chat), and you would normally use a nickname or @handle to represent yourself. Spend enough time on these things and you could cultivate an online persona for yourself, that unless you knew some of the other IRCers, others were unable to tell if you were being genuine in your representation or not. You could be a pimply-haired 13-year-old boy, but talk like you was 10 years older if you were good at it and no one else would know. Although CMC means different things to different people and is utilised in different ways by different individuals, the common thing was that it seemed to be a place where people came together to show parts of their personality that they wanted others to see, whilst hiding others parts. Some people may not have seen it that way, but it was a form of role-playing. Over the years I met many a person who presented themselves online in one way and was completely different in real life. I know for myself, I’m very “chatty” behind a keyboard, but in person, it can be another story.  IRC seems to be a pretty dead platform these days, but it was the way we in the geek community communicated back in the 90s (I came to it late in the game, I was a n00b).

Fast forward to 2018 and IRC has pretty much been replaced with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms. I list these as these are the ones I predominantly use. Gone are the days where teens or whoever would log on to IRC and chat with others anonymously. Some may disagree, but it appears that anonymity is pretty much non-existent on Facebook. Sure you can choose a profile picture of whatever you like, but Facebook won’t allow you to use a fake name, not for long anyway. The people with whom we communicate with have also changed as well. Facebook friends lists consist of friends from school/work/gym/clubs etc that are known personally either from the past or present. Friends may also be made with others who we haven’t met yet in person, but have met through a shared interest, such as a Facebook group.

This is where my love of Goffman popped into my head last night. With so many people on our friends’ lists, this surely has an impact on our identity. We are already establishing an identity on our walls by what we post in general. However, with so many different groups of “friends” on our friends list, we have to navigate our identity, or “presentation of self” on the one profile. Unless of course, you’re one of those people who have multiple Facebook profiles. Think about it, when we’re speaking to people face to face, we will present ourselves differently in different situations. For example, my work me is different from my gym me, and my gym me is different from my family me and so on. So whilst I was thinking about all of this, with Facebook being a place where all of these different identities seem to come together in one place because where are interacting with more than one friend group at any given time, I realised that Goffman’s Presentation of Self can be applied not just on Facebook in general as has been researched in the past (I’ll add references to this post at a later time, I’m just typing the words as they spill out at the moment), but by the way in which we utilise the post-privacy function on Facebook.  It’s not that there’s anything wrong with having these multiple presentations of ourselves, in fact, they are necessary. For us to be able to interact successfully in a given situation, we need to bring out or push back, different parts of our identity. We’re constantly performing roles, whilst at the same time, still being who we are. Post-privacy is not just a way for us to be able to escape or hide stuff but it is important for humans to be able to maintain that cultivation of presentation of identity which has been worked on through interaction offline. It’s the same with Twitter and Instagram or LinkedIn. Different CMC utilises different ways of communicating our identities, and as such, will be used in different ways. Some might use Twitter for professional stuff, whereas some will use it as a platform to discuss things of interest from shows to politics.

Anyway, I’ve been rambling on enough for my first post in ages that I may have gone off on a tangent. I just find it fascinating when I am able to apply anthropological theory to everyday life. THIS is why I love anthropology.

Ok that’s it from me for now. I’d be interested in any thoughts you might have. For those who don’t know about Goffman, Erving Goffman is one interesting read. Check out his Presentation of Self and the many articles that have been inspired by him.