Have you ever had that dream, where you walk into a room full of people and realize with horror it contains everyone you have ever known?
All the jostling, incongruous parts of your life flash before you, as your brain speeds through the consequences of this squeamish event – the secrets, deceptions, indiscretions, and embarrassments that will be exposed.
Image: DavidDennisPhotos.com via Flickr, CC 2.0
But then you wake up.
That room, however, does exist. It’s called the Internet.
William James best described social interaction when he spoke of the six ‘people’ that are present when you meet someone: each person as they see themselves, each person as the other sees them, and each person as they really are.
Ask yourself – which of these six characters do you tend to favor?
For me, it was always how the other person saw me. I tailored my persona for each individual. As a freelancer, I did many different jobs and had many different interests, involving a disparate range of people. A chameleon strategy seemed to bring the most success.
The idea of bringing such diverse individuals together terrified me.
“Holly’s an editor” – “She works for charities?” – “No, she writes fiction…”
Even my class background was mercurial.
The part of me that went to a posh school, a top university, and enjoyed the in-laws’ holiday home gave me a certain cultural capital. The other side, that grew up on benefits, got lucky with scholarships, and roughed it in Hackney, made me comfortable with a different demographic. My voice changed with company. One set of friends only saw me in 1930’s clothes.
As a result, I have always preferred one-to-one relationships than a big gang. The stress associated with multiplying James’ six characters got in the way of cultivating authentic connections. James, writing now, would have to scale up his hypothesis to 2.4 billion and six.
The web terrified me: diminished control, a diverse audience, conflicting personas. My Facebook presence was cursory and pseudonymous. My profile picture was Zelda Fitzgerald. When I got a new job, I un-followed all the fiction-world people from my Twitter, re-launching it just for work.
Further issues came when that new job involved blogger outreach. I was trying to get articles placed that were of a high journalistic quality, but nonetheless were written to promote clients.
I tried to be who the bloggers wanted me to be. I didn’t use my work email, in case the ‘SEO’ bit deterred them. I said I was a freelance writer working with ethical companies (true), but I worried they’d find other elements of my freelance work incongruous.
You are mercurial. The Internet is not. You are molten lava, gushing up ideas and interactions, which then spread and solidify, forming layers of forever rock. It’s the old dead rock of past explosions that cools the lava, thwarting its flow and taming its vitality.
The web invites everyone you have ever known – and never known – to a Museum Of You.
The fear goes when you realize everyone is the same. We all have pasts. We all have photos we regret. We all have hobbies that would surprise you, and friends you wouldn’t like. We have all been on the Internet a while. It’s time we started to accept ourselves, and each other, as whole people.
If the multi-faceted persona worries you, you have options:
- Establish a complex system of personas with different names, photos, and emails
- Eradicate every sniff of you from every site and network, re-launching a false squeaky-clean ‘you’
- Live in a cave
- Accept you are a whole person, made up of different facets, with diverse interests
- Accept you are human; you have made errors; you do not always look good in photographs; you have made a few tipsy posts and ranted on tweets; some of your interests conflict
- Accept you are blessed to know a wide range of people; how they interact with each other is not your responsibility; you cannot control what they say about you
- Reduce the gap between your real self and online self – as Shonali warned, one day they will collide!
Why give your online self such a hard time? If your real self had to look like a model, say only intelligent things, interact solely with people it wanted to make money from, and had no interests outside work, you would be bored, exhausted, and pretty much friend-less.
So now I am getting real and being myself.
My Twitter profile describes my different roles; my Facebook is my real name; I am on LinkedIn and Google+. And I am a convert, no – addict. New friends have been made, old friendships rekindled. Business is great. I am thriving on making connections that are genuine, nurturing, surprising, and fulfilling.
Whether I know you or not, I want you in the room. You’ll get some digital communications stuff, some mental health and women’s empowerment stuff, some fiction stuff, and the ‘fluff’ : learning to drive, allotment progress, my latest ill-fated craft project.
You won’t like it all. Pick the stuff that sparks your interest and connect with me. Pick the stuff that you know your novelist friend would like and connect them with me. Pick the stuff you know your business followers would like and use it to connect to them.
That’s real communication.