On Twitter, on Facebook, and most any other social network we get to paint ourselves as the protagonist of an ever-unfolding plot. We become, each of us, bricoleurs, crafting a digital collage of who we want to be and who we think we are. Our friends, colleagues, and family interact, shaping our intersecting narratives with their own twists that either reinforce ideas about ourselves or contradict. With the click of a button, for the most part, we can edit ourselves and each other.
Our digital community provides a place where we share our passions and obsessions, boast our children’s accomplishments, confess our doubts, seek counsel, crack quips, and announce milestones. We fashion splinters of our selves to sometimes put our best foot forward or to fall flat, accidentally or intentionally, on our digital faces. Thankfully and hopefully, most of us have our own online cheering section, people who take the time to read and respond to posts. These support networks become a lifeline.
The idea of Netiquette already seems so outdated in light of these quick-silver micro and macrocosms we leapfrog through. Its no longer just about playing nice but the democratic nature of the internet necessitates cultivating citizenship and meaningful engagement. What does digital citizenship mean and how do we best shape the little corners we share within our multiple communities?
Digital citizenship means you share an investment in your online communities, you care about the well-being of those in your community, and you seek to promote outreach and advocacy for your own community and for others. This engagement works the same as citizenship in your own brick and mortar neighborhood.
Ask yourself are you really listening to your online communities? Are your posts concerned with other digital citizens or are you simply indulging in your own private universe? What you put into your digital engagement is what you get out of it. We can get so hung up on recognition, on stacking those likes and comments on our individual posts that we forget we’re cultivating a shared citizenry.
In The Guardian article Blogging the Fine Art of the Confessional published 13, March 2011, Scott Rosenberg writes:
Too often, today, we meet people online who are frantically promoting themselves and their businesses – all the time pretending that what they are doing is not advertising or marketing but rather “being sociable”. Long before the internet’s advent, the academic world concocted a phrase that describes what’s happening when we do this: we are commodifying our own authenticity. In plainer language, we are selling our souls.
Commodifying our authenticity means solely indulging in self-promotion. True reciprocal engagement requires not only posting authentic parts of ourselves but also listening authentically. Pay attention to who pays attention and respond in kind–more on this later. Yet, at the same, we need to understand that attention doesn’t necessarily include or even preclude respect or true admiration. When we log on and before we click “post” we need to consider what exactly we’re seeking. Are we just trying to gain favor or build community? Are we one upping our old high school rivals? Of course, there’s ways to respectfully and professionally throw your weight without simply grubbing for attention. The stealth advantage of online social networks is that you have time to compose your communique. Interactions don’t need to be off the cuff. Language counts, and we get a chance to measure our words carefully.
Who we are online is not who we are in life. We pretend its autobiography, but the interactive nature of social media contorts our self-narratives into biography, and any literaste knows that what we digitally post, at the end of the day, is an artful form who likes to dress up as non-fiction but really stands as fiction. Think of Pessoa’s heteronyms, his inventions of the self. Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, may embody an essence of self but the digital nature can dilute the original aura that Walter Benjamin talks about. We walk a fine line of trying to remain authentic, and the only way to truly retain authenticity is to recognize the participative power we all share in our digital citizenship. Online is the public’s public.
How do you measure your words before you post? How do you engage with your online communities? What concerns do you have about blogs, Facebook and other social media? Check back with the salon for Part II of this conversation.