Thursday, March 19, 2015

Online Personas

I've written about this before but it is still so relevant. When will we learn? Or is that we simply don't we care?

The internet, and and social media forums like Facebook are a pretty amazing thing. Where else can you research the most inane questions, reconnect with old friends and meet new ones all without leaving the comfort of your own home? There is a whole virtual world out there to be discovered. But unlike in real life where what you see is more often than not, what you get, in a virtual world it is possible to create new personas. A shy person can become outgoing online and vice versa without anyone being the wiser. Recently I've been wondering how often people do this and whether their actions are intentional or unintentional. So is the way you act online the same way you behave in real life? Yes, no, maybe, sometimes???
Lets take Facebook for example. I have my share of friends and know all but a handful in real life. I know some better than others and have found in most cases that their real life personalities are the same as their virtual ones. Those that complain, whine and have a lot of drama in their real lives tend to have the same when online. And my more mild mannered and even keeled ones? Their virtual lives tend to look the same; its all pretty predictable.

But what I really wonder about is those people that I've never met. Take Facebook groups as an example. Because I'm selective about the groups I join I tend to belong ones that are interest or demographic based; shared hobbies, alumnae of the same schools, members of the same military communities, etc. These groups can have a handful or several thousand members. Fellow members aren't my friends per se but because we belong to the same groups I feel like I know many of them. If they are regular posters their faces and stories become familiar and I feel like I've met them. In just about every group I am a member of there are people who are active and always chiming in. Their responses to questions are often rapid fire and immediate making me wonder if they do nothing other than stalk Facebook at all hours of the day. Sometimes they add useful information to the conversation but many times I feel as though they don't. While these groups can provide a wealth of information and needed opinions, if a question about an opening time has been posed then answered is it really necessary for ten other people to chime in with the same information? Then there are the people who come across as experts on every subject matter; regardless of the question they always have a definitive answer and have no qualms about arguing with anyone who dares to disagree or present an differing opinion. Personally I am quite private when it comes to posting in these groups. I think twice before sharing a tale of woe and only jump into the conversations if I have something new and meaningful to contribute. (But when thinking about it, this is the way I am in real life as well). But not everyone feels the same way. I know more about people's marital and in-law problems, dislike of their jobs and bosses and disputes with their neighbors than I want or need to. Really.

The longer I am a part of these groups the more I get to "know" these people. Some people I immediately like, others I find funny or I grow to be annoyed by. A few I find myself disliking but the majority of them I am indifferent to. But every once in a while I actually meet and get to know these people in real life. This tends to happen most often with the military spouse groups that I belong to. And you know what? The ones I liked online I find myself liking in person. If you don't have a filter in your virtual life it is doubtful that you have one in real life either. The ones whose comments I avoid reading and generally disliked when on Facebook are the same ones I feel the urge to run from when I see them in person. Annoying online is annoying in person; funny behind the keyboard usually means funny in person. And the similarities just go on. So is the internet "real life" or just a mirror image of it?

And all of this makes me feel like my online persona pretty much mirrors the real life me. But then again, I'm pretty biased so who am I to judge?

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