Social Anonymity

Thanks to the miracle of RSS aggregators, I occasionally read Prokofy Neva’s blog. Part of it is because I still log into Second Life on occasion (if nothing else, it’s an online world entirely unlike my day job) and he is one of the few commentators on that. Part of it is because it’s just randomly fulfilling to see exactly how ad-hominem someone can go in one’s undying hatred for the net.intelligentsia that Prokofy roundly loathes. And occasionally, part of it is because he gets something right.

Like today, in the midst of yet another flamewar with another well-known SL blogger, Prokofy writes:

Of course, despite the always-on, always-share, Exposed Me quality of social media, we’re not supposed to ask what is behind what already seems like a deep exposure. We don’t Need to Know whether someone is 20 pounds less or ate burritos or clumps of spinach for lunch, but we’re told this Too Much Information and then…we’re supposed to shut up.

This is what I mean by social media as being such a burning lie — such a subterfuge even as it discloses and exposes.

In real life, your very close friends who would tell just you — and not the entire world — that they were losing weight because their doctor warned them of a heart attack or because they needed a new girlfriend. That is, their valiant acts would come bundled with other relavant just-for-you news.

In social media fake life. somebody broadcasts their diets all day and their health eating and you feel like you’re getting bulletins from Susan Powter and Richard, the sweating to the oldies guy, but you aren’t hearing what’s *really* up. And you don’t dare comment or ask, except in a superficial way, because then you’re rude, etc.

Social media like Second Life (which I clump together with this phenomenon, although they’re different) also creates such fake and false friends. You think someone you’ve talked to nearly every day pleasantly, with understanding, with solidarity, with shared insights, with cameraderie is your “friend,” but they aren’t really. Of course you don’t know them and can’t see their *real* setting.

Whis is true. We post things daily, hourly, minute-by-minute about our lives, not to reveal things about ourselves, but to throw out chaff so that the radar of other people can’t lock on to us. I dare say that most of you know very little about *me*, the person, because I don’t care to reveal much beyond the public persona. If you’ve friended me on Facebook you may know a bit more. If you know me in RL you may know a bit more still.

I’m pretty sure the count of people who know I’m trying to lose weight right now, and why, number at about 3.

And I don’t think the Internet, or social media, or any other buzzword, harbors responsibility for this essential alienation. I think our culture in general teaches us that we keep our enemies far and our friends farther. We don’t know our neighbors. (I’ve spoken to mine only a few times; when the police came by to inform us that one was a fugitive and asked if we had any information on him we could only shrug eloquently) We fear revealing too much online, entirely correctly, and then reveal entirely inappropriately too much at random moments (such as myself, one paragraph above this one) that, because of the shock of the reveal, is ignored and perhaps filed away to solve later, like some sort of mystery.

And tales of the sordid everyday lives of others are some of the most popular entertainment that we have. It’s not that we don’t want that connection, it’s just that we don’t particularly know what to do with it when we have it. And this is also why we flock to online worlds, for at least some of us – because it gives us very low-impact and low-danger social connections; communication outside of ourselves and our little packets of worlds.

And which is why ‘guild drama’ are some of the most compelling stories from online worlds – because we want the soap opera. We want that participation in the lives of others, even when – especially when – it all goes sour. Because it’s something outside of ourselves.

Or we could just go outside and meet other people and talk to them about things. But that’s overrated. I mean, it’s HOT out there this time of year.