Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Electric Footprints

My friend and I were talking a few weeks ago about the differences between our online personalities and our "real" personalities. We concluded that, as we know each other, our writing is a pretty close reflection of who we are as people. But what of our Internet acquaintances? What do they make of these fragments? Is their picture complete?

Since the dawn of the Internet age, I have poured hundreds of hours into sending emails, exchanging instant messages, and now posting essays in this space. In a real way I have encoded some of my electronic DNA into this cyber-ether. And yet the nuance of body language, vocal inflection, facial expression, and eye contact are all lost upon the reader in this cold medium. These subtle cues affect in-person communications in rich and subtle ways, and I marvel at the social contract that we attempt to fulfill in cyberspace without these unspoken terms and conditions.

There is a saying in pop psychology that "we all wear masks." If that is so, then the picture formed by our online personas is simply a variation on that theme, and an extension of print media's personality artifacts. But what if this new phenomenon runs deeper? What if self-publishing, once the narrow prerogative an elite few, now accessible to the masses through electronic means, has opened a window into the human soul where none was before? It's an interesting question.

Maybe I should drink less coffee. Then I'd be asleep instead of thinking about such nonsense.


J G-W said...

Yes, as I recall, we discussed how as I have begun to meet people who knew me first only through my writing, they seemed surprised by the "real me." This made me realize that while I look at my own writing and see how it could only be the product of me and a reflection of me, others see a very different me through my writing.


I suppose this should be a caution to historians, who try to form pictures of people based only on the ephemera they leave behind. That will never be the complete picture.

How long after we are gone do you suppose our cyber-musings will last? 100 years? 50? 1? Will future historians even have a chance to form an image of us from our blogs?

Knight of Nothing said...

You have good thoughts and questions about this. And the next question is, how does being aware of this apparent discrepancy change the way you write? Or more basically, should it change the way you write?