The Authenticity of Online Lives

This week’s readings collided with real life in a very tangible way, leaving me with a great deal to grapple with and a lot to consider. I recently decided to take a break from Facebook, a decision that I knew would disconnect me from a network of people I have come to rely upon for support. After much deliberation, I took a hiatus from Facebook for the following reasons:

  • Is the image I am portraying on the site a true reflection of who I am and what is happening in my life? If it is not, I need to take some time to understand why and how I am putting forth a different representation of the person I am in the real world.
  • If I step away from Facebook, will I still have a network of people that care? Are the relationships I am cultivating online authentic? Would I feel comfortable having a conversation with the people that I communicate with online? Society is great at posting the good things that happen in life but what happens when life is hard? Where is our network then? If and when we do post the challenges we face, do others take the time to care or is it another case of a Facebook user “airing their dirty laundry?”
  • During this difficult time in my life, am I using Facebook as a distraction? Am I using it as a tool to get “lost” in others’ lives so I can divert attention away from my own? If so, are the lives these people are posting online a true reflection of who they are? When I feel a twinge of jealousy, am I jealous of their “perfect life” or is it all just a facade we put forth to make ourselves feel better?

These are all very real and hard questions I am having to ask and then allowing myself to come to terms with the answers. Rheingold’s discussion of social networks and Facebook, in particular, left me desperate to get as far away from the site as possible, while also craving the connections and missing the interactions that I came to expect as part of my everyday routine. Rheingold’s succinct observation that Facebook “can be a blessing and a curse” could not be more true (2012, p. 206). It makes me think back to a time before constant connectivity and making an effort to foster truly authentic relationships. Are meaningful relationships meant to be inherently easy, though? Don’t true connections come in the face of overcoming adversity and uncertainty? There is certainly something to be said for the convenience of Facebook, but I am not sold on the idea of appreciating relationships that are based on ease of use.

With that being said, I absolutely see the value in social networking sites, they have connected me to family members across the world and have taken my professional learning network (PLN) to a level I did not know possible. Yet, I still question my stance on the idea that “Facebookers consider it normal to see what their friends are doing at all times, and know where they are doing it” (Rheingold, 2012, p. 231). What is the trade-off for constant connectivity… authenticity? I find myself asking the same question as Rheingold, am I using Facebook or is Facebook using me? (2012, p. 232).

Will I eventually reactivate my account and savor in the countless minutes lost scrolling through tropical vacation photos, relationship updates and political rants? Undoubtedly, but I will do so bearing in mind that my life is what I make it. A pre-determined number of “likes” on my wall does not define my level of success. Worthwhile connections are what we make them, online and off. My digital presence is a small snippet of who I am and what I represent, it does not encapsulate my entire being; good, bad or otherwise. I conclude with one last thought from Rheingold and ask others to contemplate this thought, as well: “Deleting or not creating a Facebook profile in the first place is definitely a legitimate choice, and listing the pluses and minuses of Facebooking is an exercise I recommend to everyone, whether you are Facebook skeptic or enthusiast” (Rheingold, 2012, p. 206). Who do you represent online, is it the “real” you? Those relationships you hold near and dear (and check five times a day), are they authentic or just easy? Think about it.


References

Borg, J., Larsson, S., & Östergren, P.-O. (2011). The right to assistive technology: for whom, for what, and by whom? Disability & Society, 26(2), 151-167. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09687599.2011.543862

Rheingold, H. (2012). How (using) the web (mindfully) can make you smarter. In H. Rheingold (Author), Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (pp. 239-253). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Rheingold, H. (2012). Social has a shape: why networks matter. In H. Rheingold (Author), Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (pp. 191-238). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Warschauer, M., & Matuchniak, T. (2010). New technology and digital worlds: analyzing evidence of equity in access, use, and outcomes. Review of Research in Education, 34(1), 179-225. Retrieved from ERIC PlusText database.

 

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