Fairly recently, Facebook has developed the ‘Memories’ function. On a daily basis it digs up and notifies you of your Facebook activity from that particular day over years past, dating as far back as to the day you joined Facebook. For me, this recent addition to the Facebook personal storytelling repertoire has acted as a ‘clean house’ mechanism. By that I mean I usually take one look at the idiocy I deemed okay to post online ten years ago and, as fast as I can, hit delete. I do this because, well, for a start there’s the embarrassment – what I find funny and intelligent has changed a frightening amount over the course of ten years – but also because it’s no longer who I am, what I said ten years ago no longer fits in with the persona I wish to portray online (or anywhere else).
What is the online self and what do we do with it?
Erving Goffman once likened the human portrayal of public personae as being like a theatre performance: we are all actors wishing to portray a particular image, to make it believable and real. We have front stage and back stage behaviors, when an actor is front stage his speech, actions and decisions are carefully crafted and executed to convince the audience that he is the character he tries to portray (Goffman, 1990). Goffman made these observations before the current technological boom, however the principles of his arguments are still significantly relevant in a world where everything can be done online, as Bullingham and Vasconcelos argue in their article: ‘The presentation of self in the online world’ - that our online persona is merely another form of front stage behavior (Bullingham/Vasconcelos, 2013).
With all this in mind, online identity comes across as another form of stage upon which a person can build an image. Though, while such image crafting used to exclusively rely upon things one did and said in person, all that’s required now is a keyboard and an internet connection. People have online platforms, they can use pictures, articles, videos, links, blog posts, etc. to do the fueling, and it requires minimal effort. Paul Longley Arthur describes online identities as being “easility manipulated at any time by the individual subject” and that it is “changing the way we see ourselves” (Arthur, 2009). With all the platforms now available, a person is free to be pretty much whoever they choose to be online. The image can be as close to or as far away from the reality as they wish.
Fast forward ten years, I’m thirty-one and a teacher living abroad, cringing at my Facebook memory notifications on a daily basis. My online persona has mercifully changed along with me. Where it used to be entirely social - a means for me to desperately craft an image to compensate for my lack of a real life one - my approach now is different, far more strategic, far less obnoxious (I hope).
Facebook is still alive and well, but where I used to be actively vocal, writing status update after status update in an attempt to be witty, I now use it as a means to profile my travel activities and to keep tabs on the lives of my friends back home in order to stay in the loop (who’s getting married/splitting up/pregnant?). My Instagram account acts as an extension of this, a photographic chronicle of my travel adventures. These two platforms exist solely for social purposes and show a far more subdued persona in comparison to that of ten years ago. I am still attempting to portray my ‘best self’, buy cherry picking the right snapshots of my life: the achievements, the moments of happiness.
Is it real? Well, partly. No one sees the moments of overwhelming homesickness, the struggles with mental health or the unsuccessful teaching moments. It’s merely real in the sense that I’m putting forward the parts of me that I’m happy to show, giving them the bare minimum of written narrative, and simply letting the content speak for itself. Socially, it’s my ‘best self’, it’s the portrayal of a teacher who lives abroad. It’s inoffensive and, as always, so very easy.
Showing off on Twitter
Then there is the professional side of things: my Twitter account and my Weebly. This side seems to be the road less traveled as the active portrayal of my professional self online is something that I’ve only recently began to explore. My chosen platforms act as an extension of my professional life as an educator and, recently, a learner. As an international teacher my Twitter operates as a means of networking with with other international schools and educational organisations around the world. As recent as a few weeks ago, I tweeted a photo of my students using Minecraft to study area, the post was liked by Minecraft themselves, much to the delight of my students. On the other hand, my Weebly is a newly started blog intended to portray my life as an international educational educator, to profile life in the classroom and the experiences (good and bad) or working abroad in an international school. This gives me the opportunity to speak in a lot more detail, to craft an image of professionalism, of the career of a teacher from a unique perspective.
1. Goffman E. 1990, The Presentation of self in everyday life, Random House, London.
2. Bullingham L, Vasconcelos A, 2013.The Presentation of self in the online world, Sage Publishing, Thousand Oaks.
3. Arthur P, 2009. “Digital Biography: Capturing Lives Online.” a/b: Auto/Bioggraphy Studies 24, no. 1 (Summer): 74-92.
Greater Online Activity: