Perception is a framing device. Reality is a subjective interpretation of a mysterious truth. The world that each one of us knows is formed by the individual experiences that we have been through, the state of our minds/bodies, our interactions with others, and most importantly our decisions on how our inside worlds perceive the events of the outside world.
The self that we present outwardly then, whether in person or on social media, is merely reflective of how we frame our identities.
I am part of a generation that has been identified by society as Millennials, roughly meaning those born between 1980 and 1995. As a result, the tools in which I present myself to the world have changed from the ones employed by Generation X, just as their tools were different from the Baby Boomers. What I’m arguing here is that while it’s become common to blast the very idea of social media, to attack the way that Millennials market their identity as a brand, it’s hypocritical — because self-marketing is nothing new. In fact, it’s been a part of society since society has existed.
Need evidence? Here are a few example questions that demonstrate how prior generations did (and do) just as much self-marketing as Millennials:
- If one isn’t self-marketing, then why does one carry a business card?
- What makes a person decided to wear one shirt over another?
- On one’s first date with a potential soulmate, why does one choose a specific restaurant instead of another?
- Why does one tell that certain story to certain people at certain parties, instead of the other story that one tells at other parties?
The answer to all of these situations is the same. Because every time human beings interact with others, we are marketing ourselves. We are marketing our story, our style, our sense of humor, our pathos, our musical taste, our favorite movies. Social networking is just an outgrowth of that. In order to succeed in today’s society, a person’s internet presence has become a part of their wardrobe.
But what’s important here as we create our identities, as we market our brand, is that we focus on remaining genuine.
I’ll come back to that.
A person’s “identity” is an accumulation of stories that a person writes for oneself, the inspiration for these stories cherry picked from real events. We choose which stories from our past represent who we are, as opposed to the stories that for whatever reason we chose to leave behind.
Identity is also a collection of chosen attributes, based on influences from the outside world. There’s a reason that when a person steps out the front door, they choose certain clothes. There’s a reason that we choose our preferred hairstyles, or why we alternate between different styles of speaking when talking to a grandparent or a high school friend.
The internet makes everything public on a scale beyond any media form from the past, and so it has broadened our notion of identity. Today, identity is defined not just by what we wear on our bodies, what music we listen to, or what decorations we hang on our walls, but also by how we represent ourselves on social media. What pictures do we pin up on Instagram — political signs, homemade food, cats, travel photos? What do we post on our blogs? The decisions that we make are not small: these pictures, blogs, Tweets and pins will define our identity to everyone we know, all of whom will see these tokens of us on their smartphones, tablets, and laptops.
That’s what our identities are, really: a framing of the events of our lives, collected in the forms we choose to put them into, combined with a collection of items — be they physical items, tastes in music, or social networking profiles — that we put out there to represent ourselves. By doing this, we create a self outside of the self. When an artist paints on a canvas, he is creating an impression of himself that exists outside of his physical body. When a politician grabs the microphone, he plays a certain role that he believes will get him elected. We’re all actors.
What matters isn’t the fact that we’re acting, as that is unavoidable. Instead, what we need to focus on—for the sake of our happiness, strength, and growth—is ensuring that our performances always, always come from somewhere genuine. Our outward identities should genuinely reflect our inward identities.
Because if the internet is an outgrowth of identity, then it plays by the same rules.
Charlatans who play a false role online will not find happiness or self-satisfaction, as the disparities between their minds and their masks will drive them off the cliff of an identity crisis. Appreciation from others means nothing when the person they’re appreciating isn’t really you.
In order to find happiness and have valuable relationships, the key factor is that one’s public face should always be authentic to who that person is on the inside. Genuineness is more important than anything else. People can tell when someone is being honest. We all like honesty.
So when curating content from across the internet to create our social identities, when picking images that best represent who we are, when writing blogs, updates, and tweets, it’s important that we strive for authenticity. It’s important that we remain raw, real, true to the private inner being that bangs on the walls of one’s subconscious when it isn’t being paid attention to.
Be real. Always.