Can we be “authentic” on social networks? Actually what do we mean by authentic? I’m guessing that when people talk about authenticity on social networks they’re referring to people being genuine, being themselves.
The problem is, when are we actually ever ourselves? And do we want others to be themselves? In order to engage socially with others we have to accept that there is a degree of compromise. Social interaction necessarily transforms us. Do you really share with people exactly what you’re thinking? Or do you miss bits out, enhance the less interesting elements?
Tim Southcombe made an interesting point in that the only way we can really get to know someone is over an extremely long time, face-to-face. And only, which is the really important bit, because at times they will let their guard down. So, really getting to know someone is about seeing the bad bits, the vulnerable times. And only because you’re close enough to someone for the holes to appear.
Vulnerability and failure on social networks are nothing more than projected vulnerability and failure. You can choose to show the negative, painful things about yourself, but it is a choice. And a choice based on what will fit within your particular tribes. In the same way that the human mind cannot produce randomness, it cannot help but shape what it communicates to others.
Vulnerability and failure are part of it, but what about opinion? Who tells friends, or even just acquaintances, that the design work they’ve just done is dreadful? Who dares to argue with people that everyone else agrees with? We might all do this by degrees but who really talks nothing but their absolute truth?
So, we need to accept that, at the very least there are two sides to us. There’s the private side and the public side. Perhaps the increasingly open world will make our private and public sides more similar. Perhaps the “always on” scrutiny will force these two identities apart. Either way, it seems hard to imagine a future where we are not shaped by the very nature of socialising. And surely this makes the notion of authenticity on social networks fundamentally flawed.
Perhaps what we need to be thinking about is how we can make our “authentic” selves more social, rather than our social selves more authentic.