Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Living in a World of Public Privacy

               Growing up in the digital age is by no means a problem in and of itself. Before social media, the internet was bustling with people and teeming with information. As the internet started to take hold in many homes, there was the always-looming idea of "you never know who somebody really is on the internet," the idea that over-sharing will lead to drastic or dire consequences. Internet handles, usernames, and avatars were commonplace across the world as a means to mask personal identity but give a voice on the internet. Message boards, forums, and even personal websites and journals were mainstays of the internet, all of them early or precursory forms of "social media" before social media. Everything was going well... until the social media nation attacked. Early social media such as Friendster and Classmates and SixDegrees started to spring up seemingly overnight at the turn of the century. Rather than solely adopting our online personas, hidden behind our (cringeworthy, adolescent) usernames, users now made profiles around their own personal information and linked their accounts or added friends. Connections were made, people rejoiced at this newfangled way to either get or keep in touch with others that may or have left our immediate lives (for better or worse).

               But as the essay "Accumulating Affect" makes a startlingly scary point in how we have developed as a worldwide culture in the digital age. The essay notes, "Sites such as Facebook would not exist if they did not reproduce sociability... Social Networks are virtual spaces driven by the active participation of users" (236-7). Now more than ever, everyone is sharing everything they think, see, or do in every way possible. From text posts on Facebook to pictures on Snapchat or Instagram or videos on Vine and Youtube, everything that everyone experiences in the digital age makes its way into the hands of nearly infinite amounts of shares, likes, retweets, etc. Author Jennifer Pybus notes that "when a user places something into the archive, he or she is uploading an object that has social, and hence affective, value. The object in question has the potential to affect as it moves between the user and the larger network of friends... Thus affect accumulates, sediments, and provides additional cultural significance to that which gets circulated" (240). As such, sharing is inherently a good thing in terms of sociability; the material or experience has the ability to connect the person sharing with any and all who receive or interact with the shared material in some way. In this way, the more we share our experiences, the more "sociable" we make ourselves seem. But seem is the operant word here; does sharing our experiences (or lack of sharing) really make us any more or less sociable in comparison to our worlds "offline"?

               Just because a plethora of Facebook friends "like" that one picture of the burrito you took last weekend to show that you are such a #foodie doesn't necessarily make you any more inherently sociable, does it? Pybus notes that "people do not log in to social networks to live anonymous lives, but instead to live what Zhao and colleagues refer to as 'nonymous' or (semi)public lives" (243). We, as a culture, use social media as a tool or means to connect with one another in a way that doesn't necessitate having to have a close, personal relationship with one another. Simply just being friends with someone on Facebook is the modern equivalent of being an acquaintance with someone without necessarily having to invest time or energy into cultivating long-lasting friendships with said people. The term "Facebook friends" actually has this distinct meaning that has developed out of this symbiotic, affective relationship, a meaning that is widespread and well understood. Pybus notes that "each time we upload something about ourselves, an intention or desire motivates us to do so" (242). We want to express ourselves publicly, make ourselves a spectacle of affection or inspection. We want people to see us, see what we're doing, know what we're thinking, even if it isn't necessarily relevant to anyone but ourselves (really, Dave, nobody else cares if you're thinking of buying a new set of window curtains. Honestly).
               Richard Pryll's "Lies" seems an interesting take on the boundry between private and public, truth and lies, fact and fiction. Each path one takes provides a different context for the information provided. In each version, Antoine and Gabriella are two different "people." When following just "Lies," one is told that Antoine and Gabriella are just journals, "meant for fantasizing about sex in our journals," and that writing in the journals is "cheating" on one another. Yet when one reads just the "Truth" path, one is set to believe that the two main characters are, in fact, cheating on one another but are choosing to come clean about it (and therein forgive one another for their infidelity). If one alternates between truth and lies, it muddles this story up a bit. One might learn early on that the "lover" is a journal, one might not; with or without this context, later information becomes much harder to decipher as "reality" or in the journal. Knowing that it is a journal, the information becomes easier to perceive as its "cheating," when in reality it isn't (and the reader would know this if they know about the journal). By using phrases and words with deceptive meaning, the author shows just how easy and simple it is to deceive the reader that might not have the proper context. The same lies in our perceptions of ourselves and others in the real world and on the internet. We often "adopt" a different persona, different set of personality traits when we're on the internet. We might be more or less inclined to share information, or even share different types of information, when we know that someone connected with you is reading or seeing it whereas we might be a little more lax when our anonymity cannot be questioned or lifted. 
          Just like in the main character's journals, we allow ourselves to be "ourselves," or more less like ourselves, when in the company of or in presentation toward others. This persona we develop may be more or less characteristic of who we truly are. An introvert may be more likely to "come out of their shell" when outside of the physical company of others, even if they're within the "digital" company of others. In reverse, an extrovert may feel themselves "confined" to a simple space such as a blog or social media, unable to fully or openly express themselves. A physical audience or presence is intimidating to many who aren't entirely introverted as well. By "limiting" that audience to a digital presence, one has the ability to reach millions upon millions of other people nearly instantaneously but isn't subjected to physical scrutiny or judgment. Anonymity and/or lack of physical presence allows for a broader range of characteristics to be displayed, acknowledged, or bolstered. Such is the reason that social media platforms such as Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, etc. allow those who want to have a voice and audience to use it vastly, but those that want to remain "nonymous" and otherwise be a wallflower are able to do so just as well.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting take on social media and the presence and perhaps problems it's caused. The problem with them, I feel is the simple fact that a lot of times audiences do need to be taken into account (although sadly not everyone who post does that). What I've found lately, during this election, is that people are wanting to share their opinions by making people mad. When logging into Facebook, majority of the time I see people that are conservative posting images of someone with a gun with the caption "share to ruin one of your liberal friends day." Others will post something that a conservative will find offensive. These social media outlets seem to have a shift. It feels as though people are know acknowledging some people using the platforms are trying to be "nonymous" and getting them to act out instead. It'll be interesting to see once the election is over whether or not this shift stays. If trying to get a rise out of the people that otherwise don't want to speak will be continuously hassled until they no longer use the platform they enjoy.