Facebook Identities Scare Me

(sorry if this is nonsensical in places; I’ve just banged out 22 pages of revision notes for my entire Human Geography syllabus in one day – I feel I can do anything, even though I can’t string a sentence together)

A few of my friends have been ‘reinventing’ themselves on Facebook recently – an immediately worrying proposition as it suggests that they take Facebook and the interactions on it as such a serious representation of their real identities that they place value on ‘reinventing’ these identities – which makes me fear for the concept of identity in general; essentially, has individual identity become weaker, if we feel that we can eradicate our old selves and simply replace them with newer versions, as we do with our Facebook identities?

Our Facebook identities are the most accurate representation of our real identities on the Internet; Twitter limits us to childish usernames and expressively limiting blocks of 140 characters, Instagram is limited to what we see in our lives, not who we are, and MySpace isn’t even used by the Hipsters any more. Facebook, meanwhile, lets us sign up as people, with real first names and surnames, interact with each other as friends would, through direct communication, on both individual and communal scales, and we can Like the fan pages of people we admire, so we can hear about them in the traditionally fanboyish way, and not with the weird personal connection that Twitter offers us.

It is therefore concerning that, in an increasingly Internet-dependent society, our most accurate representations of ourselves on the Internet are so easily changed; two mates of mine have set up entirely new accounts on the damn site within the last twelve months.

This is worrying on a few levels: firstly, it suggests that the problems on associates with an online identity are removed by starting again, and not by addressing the problems themselves; one friend said they were annoyed with the number of ‘idiots’ on their old account, but these were school friends and club partners, that they promptly added on the new account. The link between mistake (adding the morons) and suffering (putting up with their inane statuses) is therefore not established, suggesting that a ‘fresh start’ is enough itself to generate improvement. Sadly, real life is not the ending to Battlestar Galactica.

Perhaps the exactness of these peoples’ actions from one account to the next suggests that they do not place the ‘blame’ for the old account’s suckiness on the actions that were once carried out, but could point to a discontent with those people themselves: if you are annoyed with your interaction with Person A on Facebook, does setting up a new account and adding Person A really suggest that Person A is the problem?

Again, this suggests that the cause of discontent and unhappiness are unclear; are my friends’ old accounts really full of arseholes, or were my friends arseholes themselves, and so caused those very problems? If the latter is true, this suggests there are much deeper problems with my mates than can be solved with a snazzy new Timeline and a cover photo.

Obviously, online aliases aren’t entirely representative of an individual, but they are the primary means with which we present ourselves to our friends, especially those we don’t see every day at school or work. Therefore, it can be said that any discontent surrounding online interactions is rooted in others and in communal interactions, not in our own aliases. But this is the opposite to what I just said; the only thing we can know for certain about online identities is that they can be problematic and annoying, but we can never really know why – we end up getting pissed off at ourselves on sites in which we are forced to communicate with others.

But it is the difference between the confusion of problem and simplicity of solution that concerns me the most: if you’re grappling with an uncomfortable identity, and can’t find a person or group of people to attach causation to, setting up a new Facebook account will not eliminate those problems; if the causes are never known, how can they ever be prevented, especially given the ease with which we can make the same mistakes all over again by mirroring one online account with another?

Regardless of the root cause of the problem, it involves you in some way, either as part of that cause, or just in the expression. Therefore, ‘reinventing’ yourself online with the same name, photos and friends changes nothing; this is literal madness, the expectation that identical inputs will result in somehow different outputs.

Therefore, it appears that people are not just failing to understand their problems, but they are trying to fix them in fundamentally identical and ineffective ways, and this is especially concerning given the increasing domination of the Internet over our lives; some use online games to represent idealised version of themselves, some use blogs to represent discursive and literary versions of themselves, and some use YouTube to represent tag-video time-wasting versions of themselves. But while these sites let us show a specific side of us, things like Facebook represent our entire identities – our names, interests, friends and interactions – and so are we to assume that something so inherent to ourselves, our very identities, can be chopped and changed with such readiness and inconsideration?

Probably not, as not everyone uses these sites and takes them as seriously as some online fanatics do; but give it a few generations, and you might see that people become as fickle and over-emotional as their increasingly-accurate Facebook portrayals of themselves are.

Then, with your Hyper-Internet 9G super-Googling, you can find this post from AD 2014, and see that I totally called it.

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