In real life (irl), I inhabit many roles: writer, teacher, son, partner, parental figure, friend, human. Online, I try to juggle, compartmentalize or erase some of these roles, and I’m sure I do so miserably. Most of this juggling happens unconsciously, depending in some part on the platform.
On Facebook, where I am connected to much of my extended family and irl friends, I am alternately the token progressive, the staunch labor supporter, the occasional sharer of cat pics, a general goofball, and the thorn in the side of some of my more…reactionary…acquaintances. Mostly, though, I’m silent. I am often tagged and drawn into discourse, but I get easily exhausted there. In addition, I detest the algorithm that shows me 12 of my 500 friends over and over. When I see racist Uncle Joe’s post from 4 days ago, I wonder why I’m not seeing all of the posts from all my other friends who posted more frequently (note: I don’t really have an uncle Joe). Honestly, I stick around that platform mainly for the groups.
In contrast, on Twitter, I feel more free to air my creative and political sides. I’m more whimsical, but also more polemical. I retweet and quote tweet often. I feel more myself on Twitter, less censored, but I’m always wary of possible negative repercussions of being so public. But at least Uncle Joe’s not there.
I’m really beginning to like Instagram because it’s mostly pictures. Less opportunity for drama and discord. But maybe that’s a copout.
Other ways of being online have come and gone, still come and go. I’ve messed around with Mastodon but I keep forgetting about it. I used to have a quasi-academic blog, but I stopped for a long time, and then failed to transfer it to my new web host. I still have it backed up, but haven’t felt motivated to re-publish it. I have hosted or co-hosted two podcasts, both of which I miss dearly, and both of which I keep thinking about reviving. We’ll see. Maybe I’ll get around to that.
Honestly, it’s tiring keeping up multiple personae, and I find myself caring less and less about keeping them separate. Sometimes, when I feel like publishing something online, I fall into a sheer panic because I don’t know who my audience is, and, in some sense, I don’t know who I am in that moment. I definitely suffer from classic context collapse, but sometimes I let it get to me a little too much.
On the one hand, I keep reminding myself that nobody really cares about what I do online. It’s not like anyone’s scrutinizing each of my social media accounts to make sure they cohere into one fragmented, but consistent, identity. Like everything else in life, nobody cares about anything I do as much as I do. People are busy. On the other hand, I do feel it’s probably a good idea to be fairly consistent within a particular medium, so people know what they’re likely to get. I’ll let you know how that works out.