Several weeks ago, I wrote a post about how we not only manage our image (outgoing) but also curate our view (incoming). As a very brief summary, I argued, based upon data from my own ongoing social media study, that despite the potential for social media to expose us to a variety of perspectives and opinions (creating a public sphere, or at least a public space), we discriminately select which perspectives and opinions to let in, and which to exclude. In doing so, we curate reality. Though this manifests in a variety of ways, a prevalent manifestation is the management of one’s Facebook News Feed.

A new push for the (apparently long present) feature on Facebook, in which users are asked to “star” the Friends whose content they want to make more visible, further supports this trend. More importantly, however, it demonstrates the mutually influential relationship between physical architectures, normative social structures, and personal practices.

The physical architecture of a space (online or offline) simultaneously shapes, and is shaped by, those who use it. For instance, the typical classroom is set up with an instructor who stands at a high desk in the front of a room, facing students, who sit in low desks, with their bodies and eyes oriented forwards and upwards towards the teacher. This both creates and reflects a particular power dynamic, and guides how participants in the interaction think about and act towards themselves and one another. Similarly, architectures of online spaces reflect and guide who we are and what we do in those spaces.


Chris Baraniuk wrote an interesting piece at the blog The Machine Starts a few hours ago and I wanted to offer a comment. I agree with much of the analysis about so-called “Facebook Narcissim,” but what I find particularly interesting is how one fundamental assumption –the existence of a true self– drastically alters the conclusions we might draw.

Baraniuk discusses how social media sites, like Facebook, are designed to promote more sharing through creating a generally positive vibe. Indeed, Facebook has stated explicitly that they do not have a “dislike” button because they want the site to be a fun place to hangout. In addition to the positively-biased valence, Facebook makes calculable social interaction which also serves to create an atmosphere that values and encourages more sharing. For the site more sharing means more profits. And for the user more sharing about our lives creates an inward-gaze that could be described as narcissism.

Lasch’s famous study of The Culture of Narcissism argued that more...

This essay, like the one I posted last month on faux-vintage photography, is me hashing out ideas as part of my larger dissertation project on self-documentation and social media. Part II will argue that the media also overstate how public we have become, sensationalizing the issue to the point that the stigma associated with online imperfections erodes more slowly. It is no stretch to claim that we have become more public with social media. By “public” I mean that we are posting (1) more pieces information about ourselves online in (2) new ways (see the Zuckerberg Law of Information sharing), and are doing so more (3) honestly than ever before. We are connected to the web more often, especially given the rise of smart phones, and new layers of information are being invented, such as “checking in” geographically. And gone are the days when you could be anyone you want to be online; today we know that online activities are augmented by the physical world. People are mostly using their real names on Facebook and nearly everything one does there has everything to do with the offline world.

But we are not as public as this suggests. We need a balance to this so-called triumph of publicity and death of anonymity (as the New York Times and Zygmunt Bauman recently declared). “Publicity” on social media needs to be understood fundamentally as an act rife also with its conceptual opposite: creativity and concealment. And I am not talking just about those who use false identities on blogs (see Amina) and pseudonyms on Facebook, those with super-strict privacy settings or those who only post a selective part of their multiple identities (though, I am talking about these folks, too).  My point applies to even the biggest oversharers who intimately document their lives in granular detail.

I’ll describe below how each instance of sharing online is done so creatively instead of as simple truth-telling, but will start first by discussing how each new piece of information effectively conceals as much as it reveals. more...

Jeff Jarvis wrote a critique of having multiple identities on social media (find the post on his blog – though, I found it via While acknowledging that anonymity has enabled WikiLeaks or protestors of repressive regimes, he finds little utility for not being honest on social media about yourself. Jarvis argues against having multiple identities, e.g., one Twitter account for work and another for friends or a real Facebook for one group and a fakebook (a Facebook profile with a false name) for another.

Jarvis argues that the problems associated with presenting yourself in front of multiple groups of people (say, your mother, boss, best friend, recent fling, etc) will fade away under a state of “mutually assured humiliation.” Since we will all have the embarrassment of presenting a self to multiple groups, we all will forgive each other so that others will return the same favor to us. “The best solution”, Jarvis argues, “is to be yourself. If that makes you uneasy, talk to your shrink.” This is reminiscent of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg who stated “having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity,” or current Google CEO Eric Schmidt who said that “if you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place.”

The obvious problem with this line of thinking is that the problems associated with displaying a single self in front of multiple populations is not “mutually” the same for all. Just as WikiLeaks or protestors often use anonymity to counter repressive and/or powerful regimes, we know that anonymity is also used by the most vulnerable and least powerful on the personal level as well. Jarvis misses the important variables of power and inequalities in his analysis.

Having a stigmatized and not always accepted identity can bring much conflict more...

In the social sciences, we often hear about, talk about, and preach about the relationship between theory and methods. Here, I present a poignant example their interconnectedness.

In a recent post, I argued that the accomplishment of authenticity in a cyborg era is particularly difficult. Drawing on Goffman, Turkle, and others, I argued that we live in a time of constant documentation, exposing the identity work that is supposed to remain hidden in the so-called “back stage.” I purported that our online and offline selves are not only mutually influential, but that we also engage in preemptive behavior in order to accurately present our ideal selves through multiple mediums.

Overall my theoretical point is this: As social actors we expect authenticity in others, and in ourselves. In a time of constant documentation, our online personas become our reflections, and they must not only be ideal, but also truthful. As such, we do not document falsehoods, but preemptively create documentable situations in an effort to present a self that is simultaneously ideal and authentic.

Here is the methodological conundrum: If the constructed nature of selves and identities must remain hidden not only from others, but also from ourselves, then how can we get people to talk about the labor involved in the identity construction process? In other words, how do we support the theoretical assertion? more...

The self is a tricky thing to accomplish. Who we are is signified by a seemingly infinite number of factors: our physical appearance, the groups we belong to, the events we attend, the things that we say, how we say the things that we say, the friends that we keep, the work that we do, the way that we spend our leisure time, the amount of leisure time we allow ourselves etc. Each of these factors reflects the decisions that social actors have to make about who they are, and about the lines of action they will take in order to be defined in a particular way.  In short, social actors are required to engage in significant amounts of “identity work”.

This work, however, must remain hidden. The “catch” in constructing a self that will be accepted by others, is that the self must come across as authentic. The self must appear to be spontaneous, uncalculated, and effortless. Said differently, identity work must remain invisible, it must be strictly relegated to the backstage (Goffman 1959).