curation of ourselves: digital identities and publicness in the 21st century

I am a discerning poster on Tumblr, carefully choosing what I post.  On Facebook, I bounce between news articles and the like that I think are worth reading; however, my status updates primarily revolve around my coffee, comic book and bibliophile addictions—with heavy accents of internet meanderings which I find informative or noteworthy (many thanks to NPR).  On Twitter, I’m more apt to tweet thoughts into the nether, neither expecting or hoping for an echo.  Yet, when there is a reverberation, I’m glad.  My story has been shared.

Social media users are careful in the crafting their digital identities (which are inherently connected to their analogue lives).  Our various profiles, websites, and blogs are our galleries of ourselves. Through this “curation” of our identities, we are attempting to reconcile the ways we present ourselves online with the ways we perceive ourselves—though this is often not successful.  As digital users, we, in a sense “curate” our digital lives (this happens in our photos, Facebook posts, tweets, etc.)

“Curation” is a digital form of performativity (see: Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble in which she discusses “gender performativity”). For the purposes of this particular internet meandering, I’m considering the ways that we perform any sort of social behaviour—that is to say, how we present ourselves, or desire to perform our identity  (both publicly and privately).  Our posts, over extended periods, represent us to our friends, followers, and stalkers in a half-hazzard piecemeal manner.  What we post is reflective of how we want to be perceived. This is how we (the privileged persons who have internet access) “curate” our twenty-first century identities. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, our personal domains, our profile pictures, and even our screen names are attempts at performing our identities.

Everyday we post, sometimes with purpose, sometimes not.  Celebrities, politicians, businesses, and the like, often hire publicists  to curate their identities for us.  Our digital identities, at their best, give us the opportunity to share a glimpse of ourselves, ideas and creeds to the public.  Most of us do this on our own, without the help of others.

How often does one post a status update—only to quickly delete it through a form of autocensorship?  Frequently, I imagine.  We want to present ourselves in the best light possible—whether this is “honest” or not is an entirely different question. French philosopher Guy Debord, in his The Society of Spectacle, discusses the ways we have replaced an “authentic” self with a representation of ourselves. Has this digitisation of ourselves brought us closer to an inauthentic self? Or, perhaps, I wander, does this digital creation in some way create new possibilities for us to reinterpret some of the imposed constructions of ourselves that mass media of the late twentieth century attempted to sell us? Are we attempting to become our “authentic selves” through this curation of our digital identities? Are these posts, photos, and status updates capable of subverting the imposition of identities and “lifestyles” that are sold to us?

We tell stories. We consume each other’s stories.  We relate to each other.  We glean a sense of what we as a society (and as individuals) value. We follow each other—sometimes to the black hole of the internet.  At our best, we organise ourselves in an attempt to bridge the digital and the “real” world.  Ultimately, the goal is to turn our digital lives into reality.  We can start revolutions. We can influence cultural change.  We can change the ways others see the world. At our worst, we can perpetuate the jingoism, vitriol, and fears that plague us in the real world.

Are we lying to ourselves and others? Or, are we creating a new, idealistic realities that we hope can spark something greater than our quotidian dilemmas?

It is my hope that we are doing more of the latter than the former.  Only time will tell.


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