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by Kali Ferguson

February 27,2011

I have Facebook envy. Twitter anxiety. At times, I believe my quality of life would improve thousand-fold if I just had more fans, friends, followers, and comments. Call it an inflated ego, but I want hundreds of people to respond to every update I post. Or do I?

Online social networking is a tool I haven’t quite come to terms with, or one I even fully understand. I find myself torn between two centuries. I cling to in-person, one-on-one relationships; I’m also attracted to the possibility of communicating with people whose hands I may never shake. I’ve found new favorite artists and websites because someone posted or liked them on Facebook. I also know too much about some of my “friends” too often. Do I care what you want for dinner every night if I’ve never even had dinner with you? Over-sharing is becoming epidemic.

A friend suggested that people are able to create an image of themselves in cyberspace by how cheeky their posts and sexy their pictures are. I find that kind of “personal” marketing confusing because people can get caught up in images and carefully chosen words, and I feel that that kind of perpetual editing is much harder to face-to-face. I have been immeasurably bored in person by people who always have hilarious tweets, yet truly intrigued by friends who have nothing to say on a computer screen. It’s almost like I have to re-wire my social sensitivities to make room for the possible differences between Internet image and intimate conversation. So much communication is lost on the Internet with the absence of facial expression, voice inflection, and just plain “vibes.”

I’ve fallen into the trap of wishing I could experience as much entertainment or meaning as I see in others’ tweets or posts. I used to reserve this kind of jealousy for celebrities, whose PR/marketing brigades worked tirelessly. Now I can look at friends’ pictures of blissful families, enchanting vacations, and encounters with hip personalities to devalue my challenging, mundane life. Another friend deleted his account because looking at other people’s pages lowered his self-esteem. His everyday existence didn’t seem to measure up. It may be that social media are taking the term “keeping up with the Joneses” to a new level.

I’m guilty of image-control too. I remember going to a Michael Jackson party and dancing uncontrollably. The sweaty pictures a friend took and posted of me on Facebook did not appeal to my sense of vanity, so I wrote her and demanded she delete them. The woman in the pictures was definitely me, but I needed my online “public” to see only the girl who carefully smiles and poses, not the unedited, contorted fool! Another friend of mine complains of tweeters and posters who write the boldest proclamations online but who present themselves as incurably shy in person. You can be anyone you want with the time, distance, and editing capabilities of the Internet. In live time, declarations and responses can be harder to manage.

Still, I appreciate this kind of networking because every relationship doesn’t need to be intimate. It’s neat to know what Jeanine from fourth grade is doing once in a while, even if we weren’t friends way back and don’t care to phone today. Maybe it’s better if I don’t know all the details of her life. And it’s likely she only wants to witness the highlights in mine.

I now have a constant awareness of an audience that I don’t remember before MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter. When I have a great laugh with a friend we often agree – “we should post that online!”. The way I process special moments and insights has changed because of my ability to share it with an imagined crowd. I keep many of these gems to myself, or tell a loved one, but I’m always tempted.

What will put me at ease with the tension between technology and traditional twentieth-century sociability is probably my own ability to balance and discern. I want breadth and depth in suitable proportions, and the savvy to navigate them both. Don’t be mistaken though: I still want to look good online.

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