Blogging and Identity Construction

This post has been waiting in my draft folder since May 3rd. WOW. Time to let it out of the darkness, and actually hash out my feelings on this issue.

Originally, this post was begun in response to a program I listened to on NPR. The author of Girls on the Edge was on the program, discussing his book. Basically, this guy is a psychologist who works mainly with pre-teen/teen girls and boys. I still remember the conversation quite vividly, as it really struck a chord with me and things I was already thinking about.

Basically, this guy has been noticing that due to the prevalence of social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and the Blogosphere, young girls are developing their identities in an almost entirely public setting. According to him, this is changing culture, self-esteem, and morality in new and interesting ways.

I’m not going to re-hash the entire program; suffice to say, it interested me because of the ways that I work with media for Grand Aspirations. Honestly, it’s something I spend a lot of time thinking about and a lot of time doing: constructing an online identity, whether that identity is mine or that of an organization. Most of the time, this work is strangely fulfilling. I fully understand just how messed up the online community can be, and I’ve been very good at side-stepping disastrous online drama, but something still worries me about online networking.

It’s not that I don’t find it useful. No, the way that I use Facebook and Twitter have been very useful. I have friends in many different corners of the country; it’s nice to be able to check up on people and feel like I know what’s going on. Somewhat. It’s nice to have a blog where I can update people on my thoughts/what’s going on in my life.

I’m not new to the online social networking community. I’ve kept a blog in various forms since 2003 (holy hell that’s a long time ago), I participated in the Harry Potter fanfic community for pretty much the span of time it took to get all of the books published (yeah, I’m a vet), I joined Facebook in 2007, and have been working on building a national media/communications strategy for a start up nonprofit. That’s a lot of experience with social networking. I’d like to hope that perhaps, due to this amount of experience with the internet community, the ways that I use it are intelligent, and not troll-ish.

What I am having a problem with is the inherently narcissistic nature of building an online identity. Twitter is basically like yelling something into a large group of people, Facebook stores pictures, information, and multitudinous status updates, and a quick way to connect with friends. Blogging is weird – it’s like keeping a diary, but I’m ok with people reading it, which is kind of counter to the original idea of a diary anyway.

I’ve been thinking about these things for a long time. It’s time to figure out what all that thinking means. So here you see my list of things that I like about each of these social media outlets, in an attempt to personalize my own internet community experience in a way that makes sense and is healthy.

(That sounded terribly dramatic – I swear it’s not.)

Facebook

Pros:

*Keep in touch with friends from around the country
*Friends that are good at taking pictures post them, and I can look at them (I’m awful at uploading my own photos)
*Multiple ways of contacting people – with multiple levels of privacy
*I can control exactly what other people can see using Facebook’s customized privacy settings
*Keep up with events going on where I live, follow causes/businesses I support using Facebook’s pages
*Create my own events and invite people to them – fairly organized system for doing this

Cons:

*HUGE time sink. I mean really.
*Can lead to stalker-like tendencies, and the following social anxiety they entail
*I find it difficult to weed out what I’m immediately interested in vs. what is on my homepage. I’m sure there’s a way to do this, I just haven’t figured it out yet.
*Spend too much time getting distracted and procrastinating.

Twitter

Pros:

*I can follow accounts that aren’t people I know – some of my favs are @BPGlobalPR (sort of Yes Men-like twitter account that is constantly slamming BP) and @feministhulk (yes, it is as awesome as it sounds)
*NOT a huge time sink like facebook. I can just check it and be on my way, rather than getting consistently sidetracked.
*Find out about some concerts, specials, and sales that way
*Good source of news streaming – especially since I follow @mprnewsq and @nprnews
*I can update my Facebook status, the “Running Commentary” section of the blog, and update Twitter all at once
*There are some really good things about twitter that aren’t related to my personal life, but are amazing for organizations

Cons:

*SO MANY ADS. I mean, it’s because I follow things like @threadless and @Etsy, but sometimes it’s like my feed is full to the brim with ads
*Tweeting feels disingenuous, impersonal, and all-around slimy self-promotion-ish
*It feels like shouting something out to a room of people and not getting any response. What’s the point of tweeting if no one’s following?
*I sometimes feel as if I’m not saying things enough, or the things that I’m saying aren’t important. Don’t want to tweet for the sake of tweeting

Livejournal

Pros:

*Varying levels of privacy – I can control who reads what. I can even make it just an entry for myself
*More suited to being a diary than wordpress – again, differing layers of privacy
*Friends! “Following” someone on wordpress is different from being on their friendslist on Livejournal
*It’s not about getting people to follow you. There isn’t that imposing “stats” box like on WordPress.
*”Writer’s Block” prompts are sometimes quite interesting and get me thinking.

Cons:

*My livejournal has been around since 2003. I could use a fresh start.
*I’m in too many stupid communities that I don’t care about. Cleaning that out would be a good idea.

WordPress

Pros:

*Can see how many people follow you – and how they got to the blog (much more useful for activism/work than for personal entries)
*The pages, categories, and tags are very good – easy to organize things, clean and streamlined
*Very customizable widgets – not available on Livejournal
*Feels more professional. But that could be because my Livejournal is from 2003. Oh, high school, how scary the archives are …
*See above: less archival baggage

Cons:

*Lacks a good “friends-list” type of privacy system.
*No friends page. It’s less about who you follow, and more about what you write.

Wow, good thing that’s out of my system for a bit. It feels good to look at these thoughts on “paper.”

But for now, this is a ridiculously long entry.

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