On the fakeness of cyberspace

I recently caught an interview with Trent Reznor, in which he discussed the movie The Social Network and shared his thoughts on Facebook:
If you’re presenting yourself as false and you’re meeting people through the internet who are also portraying themselves not as they really are... I guess I’m just coming from an older school of: when you met people you met them. Whether you spoke to them on person or talked on the phone, when you interact with them it would be a real person and not some avatar of themselves.
I think we'd all agree that when we interact over the internet, we're acting through an avatar; the internet allows us to be more selective about how we express ourselves, and what we choose to put on display isn't always the most accurate representation of our intimate selves.

What I don't agree with is the notion that this is really any different than any other kind of social persona. We're rarely, if ever, our "true selves" in the sense that we lay bare all our flaws and insecurities. We usually reserve that kind of honestly for a select few, such as family, closely trusted friends, and romantic partners. We wear a persona in every social interaction we engage in, and we carefully monitor which aspects of ourselves we ought to reveal to which people in which situations.

There's actually a clinical term for this: self-monitoring:
Self-monitoring is a contribution to the psychology of personality, proposed by Mark Snyder in 1974. The theory refers to the process through which people regulate their own behavior in order to "look good" so that they will be perceived by others in a favorable manner. It distinguishes between high self-monitors, who monitor their behavior to fit different situations, and low self-monitors, who are more cross-situationally consistent. [Wikipedia]
What this means is that some people are exceptionally skilled at putting their "best foot forward" in a large array of dissimilar situations – they can tailor their behavior to better suit a given social encounter; others, the "low self-monitors", appear to have a more consistent social identity essentially because they are unable to adapt to different situations.

I reject the idea that there is one true "self" that defines who we are. For socially adept individuals, the aspects of themselves they choose to emphasize vary greatly depending on the situation. The personas we display on the internet aren't really any different than the innumerable other masks we wear. Who's to say which "self" we present is the "true" one?


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