One of the things that fascinates me about social media is the way in which people use it to present a version of themselves to the world. Your social media profile is an opportunity to curate and present a particular vision of who you are. You choose the most flattering photos and untag yourself from the unflattering ones. You share only those parts of your life that you feel portray you in the right light. Even sharing everything is a choice.
The idea of curation made me thing of a museum exhibition and so I came up with the term ‘social museum’ to describe this phenomenon. Our social media profiles start life as an empty museum and slowly we build up and curate the exhibition.
It hasn’t always been this way. When I first joined Facebook in 2006, you had to be part of a network. I was part of the University of St Andrews network and only others in that network could see my updates, so it had the feel of a closed environment – even though the privacy settings were nowhere near as sophisticated as they are now. No one then suspected that in just a few years time they’d be friending their mum and worrying about what their Facebook profile says to prospective employers.
I think the problem is that the first generations to start using social media grew up thinking of communication as a closed interaction. You spoke over the phone, sent emails or chatted on instant messengers. So when Facebook came along, people weren’t thinking about the others in the room. The guests in the museum, looking at the exhibits – snippets of our lives and conversations. This awareness is slowly changing. It’s certainly something that has changed a lot for me. Now when I post on Twitter I think, is this something I want (potentially) millions of people to see?
It might also be argued, however, that we could go too far the other way. There is the potential for our lives to become so mediated that our real selves, the bits that make us human, are obliterated by our online selves. If we curate ourselves through social media, we present a version of ourselves to the world – a version that others buy in to by following and liking – that doesn’t really exist and the human parts; the slip-ups and mistakes, the less than flattering moments caught on camera, and the fluctuations of mood and temperament (beyond constantly cheerful!) get lost in the dusty archives of the social museum.