Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Public Pursuit of Personal Significance

It has been a decade since Facebook has been available to all Internet users. We construct public personae that proposes what we would like others to believe about us and what we would like to believe about ourselves. We cultivate a satisfying image that we float for others to either validate or reject through likes and comments. We carefully construct our persona campaigns through images, writings, videos, and sound recordings. We also carefully share media produced by others that supports our public image.

Sometimes a post is made with just one recipient in mind. We make these posts publicly as a sort of cloak under which the intended recipient can be reached without the risk of our having to take full responsibility for our actions. We can also carry on private conversations which enables us to communicate with one person, or a select group of persons. Often these conversations take place synchronously with a corresponding public conversation. In this way, the platform functions on a public and private level, Facebook replicates a conscious/unconscious or private/public structure. We present carefully selected information publicly and privately. It is interesting to consider what the chronological correspondence must look like, if we were able to compare one's public and private postings.

Before the digital persona campaign, we knew much less about fewer people. When we encountered an acquaintance, or an old friend in a public space, there were certain limitations on what they knew about us and what we knew about them. Public image, the persona campaign, was much slower and shallower. One's public persona was limited to how they acted, what they shared, and with whom. Occasionally some individuals or families would publish annual newsletters that served to inform those close to them of the state of their affairs. Some published holiday cards with the image of the happy, prosperous family. But those media are trifling compared to the mass, digital platforms we use today.

We now know much more intimate details about many more people. These details are carefully crafted; we have become public relations experts. We attentively construct how we want others to think of us and look to their reactions for validation of a desired image and self-view. Much of what we publicly post goes beyond the polite and acceptable grounds of sharing, and serves the purpose of generating a social image of ourselves and our families.

We grieve our losses, celebrate our accomplishments, share gossip, news, and culture at a pace and volume that was heretofore unknown. Each of us now eclipses the daily exposure that even the most celebrated celebrity experienced only fifty years ago. Every piece of information is carefully selected, constructed, presented. Some of us have become extremely well versed in the strategies and techniques while others founder. Some strategically observe and cautiously, conservatively release well timed, infrequent, declarations of self and family. Others disseminate on a hourly basis and on multiple platforms. These are different styles of public relations used in the persona campaign.

What is the purpose of all this campaigning? Are we merely sharing with others, socializing with our communities, and participating in the conversation? Do we need digital, social networking to satisfy those needs? Does it have to be so fast, so frequent, and so profuse? Or are we acting as a sort of salesperson, peddling ourselves on the character market, hoping to reap the riches of social acceptance, admiration, and even that most prized evidence of our personal value--being envied?

It seems we are all selling something on the Internet, and I gather that something is ourselves. Or maybe a carefully crafted, strategically conceived, self-assuring idea of ourselves. The goal seems to be the same for each of us, regardless of the campaign strategies. We all have a deep need to feel significant.