Putting Your Cyber Face On

Using Facebook is like being back at school again. Except that you are trying to please the whole world at once…

The NY times article Putting your best cyber face forward made me chuckle. Using Facebook is indeed like being back at school again. Social scientists researching people’s self-presentation strategies on the internet have come across such unsurprising phenomena such as others perceiving you as more attractive if your Facebook friends are, users carefully choosing which books to display on their bookshelf in order to create a certain impression, etc.

The interesting thing about self presentation on the internet is that we are presenting ourselves to the whole world all at once. Professional contacts, people who may seek help from us as therapists, old childhood friends, drinking buddies, parents and long lost aunties are all going to see the same person. In real life these relationships are naturally segregated (hence the common syndrome of “going home for Christmas” and changing style considerably), both in time, as relationships end, and in space, as our parents rarely meet all our professional contacts or casual dates. There are pretty sound reasons for this.

In therapy the question who am I often emerges as a central one, although it is rarely what a client comes for help with. Who am I really, aside from all the roles I play? Often it is when the client drops their attempts to please many and various others that some sense of who they are becomes clear, or maybe the question just loses its relevance.

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Social networking sites such as Facebook do seem to provide a great opportunity for trying to please everybody. We are trying to do the impossible, and in the process we end up either watering ourselves down beyond recognition, presenting a face we do not actually relate to, or suffering stress as we constantly monitor each signal we send out.

The open cyber arena leaves us exposed, there is far less room for identity manoeuvres than in real life, and these are not necessarily faking versions of ourselves but just letting various aspects of ourselves out to play. A great deal of psychological and counselling theory is based on the concept that we contain multitudes, and as long as all of them are heard, peace can be maintained. It seems inevitable that we will have “cyber-selves” too. But it is not inevitable that our cyber selves any more than the others should be primarily out to please others. We can use social sites to express genuine interests in things and people other than our own reflections. I think that’s where the secret lies.

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