Does the sum of my different online identities equal my real self?
Updated: Dec 15, 2018
We live in an era where our online identity defines us whether we live online or off the grid - yes, not being online says a lot about us -, whether we're a public figure or a hermit, whether we market ourselves/our business or just communicate with family at the other end of the world.
Most people only have one online identity, whereas as a future best-seller author - and indie author until then - I have to provide my fellow writers, readers and potential publishers with a public version of myself; so they know who I am, what I do, and where to find my book(s).
I also have a private online identity; the one I share with my friends, my family and my pole dancing community - yes that's my sport, which is often stigmatised - the one with photos in bikini, pyjamas, etc,...
I have a different Instagram account, set on privacy settings, I have a limited amount of friends on Facebook, and I do not have a personal account on Twitter.
Two different personas for two different audiences, this is my online reality. Sometimes I'm too tired of filtering so much, of keeping everything compartmentalised. Therefore, I slip a bit more of the real me into my author's account because I'm goofy sometimes - well, most of the time - and it bugs me to look always so serious.
Smith and Watson (2014, p.71) argue that " In online self-presentation as in offline life narration, then, the "I" of reference is constructed and situated, and not identical with its flesh-and-blood maker." So, does the sum of my different online identities equal my real self or not?
I experimented different ways of putting myself out there, and I'm comfortable with the content I share online. Material which is designed - more or less - to cater, as a professional, for a large and eclectic audience .
My ultimate goal is to promote my work. As a fiction writer it's not easy to give an insight into my stories without revealing too much, and observing other authors' accounts, I realised that I had to give a bit more of myself than quotes, excerpts and photos of my book, to keep my audience interested. Nowadays it's all about authenticity, even if we know it's constructed. Smith and Watson (2014, p.75) observe that online authenticity is "the intimacy of the quotidian details of daily life". So which part of my day should I share to stay relevant to my writing community audience?
It's all trials and errors, I share photos of my pets, places I visit or a good meal, rarely more, yet always with the idea of staying true to myself - I refuse to stage an entire room or to spend two hours on a photo for Instagram or Twitter.
This version of me is not static and has evolved over the years as I did as a writer and as a person, as well as my audience shifted from chefs and foodies - I was a pastry chef before becoming a writer - to readers, writers and publishers. The fact that I wrote and published A Little Bite of Happiness, a collection of short stories about food and authentic French recipes, helped to merge both identities. It allowed me to post a more diversified content over the last two years. I'll never fully part from my pastry chef years when I was running Fleur de Sel, because it will always be a big part of myself, and also how I finally allowed myself to write. Therefore, those accounts are still existing, like small online crumbs of my previous self, even though I'm not posting anymore.
And there's the private me, sharing with my friends photos and videos of my pole dancing accomplishments, and epic fails, birthday parties, allergic reactions, rants, daily life, even a picture with Santa at 45 years old (no, I'm not ashamed).
Different community, different audience, different posts.
My friends perceive me a different way that I see myself. A few weeks ago, a friend started this activity on IG stories: for everyone who would comment on that story, she would choose a photo from their Instagram that she found inspirational and post a story about it. Of course a lot of pole dancers participated in that activity, and I was stunned by the return I had: every single one of my friends sees me as a strong woman. I know I can be determined and even stubborn but I certainly don't think I'm inspirational. Well, that's what they believe.
So, does the sum of all those different online identities equal my real self? I would say no. There are different versions of myself but only fragments of who I really am. Not only our online persona is constructed but also our offline one. We don't show the same side of ourselves to everyone, we don't react the same way with everyone, and we certainly don't share our deepest secrets, fears and weaknesses; especially in a society which rejects so strongly negative feelings.
What you see is what we allow you to see.
Smith, S and Watson, J 2014, ‘Virtually Me, a Toolbox about Online Self-Presentation’, in Poletti, A and Rak, J, Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, pp.70-95
Photo collage made with Canva