If you've ever tried to learn a foreign language, you're familiar with the idea that you can become a different person in that other language. You don't "sound" the same. It's harder to make jokes or your sense of humor may just not make sense to native speakers, it can be difficult to string a coherent sentence together, your tone of voice changes, your vocabulary is more limited and you make grammar mistakes so that you sound like a small child instead of an adult... the list goes on. Eventually with time, practice and immersion in that foreign language you will be able to express yourself as you would in your native tongue but it is not easy to reach that point.
This isn't actually a post about how far my French skills have fallen and how I need to practice more often, although those are both true facts. I was thinking about another medium through which we sometimes have trouble expressing ourselves, and that is the internet.
It's no longer weird to meet people on the internet, like it was back in the day when we first got AOL at my house and my parents wouldn't let me use chat rooms. They were right, of course, but I thought it was terribly mean of them because my friend was allowed to use chat rooms at her house. Everyone meets on the internet these days. Almost everyone can be found with a Google search. The question is, what picture of ourselves are we presenting to the world on the internet? How do we communicate ourselves, our personalities?
Take me, for example. I have never met the majority of people who read my blog in person. I imagine that you all keep coming to read this because you like me, otherwise you wouldn't waste your time here! But if we were to meet in person would we actually get along? You might find that I'm totally different in person than I present myself as on my blog! I like to think that this blog represents my personality and I strive for a more or less conversational style when I write my posts, but I really can't judge how I'm perceived by other people, can I? In person you might find me totally annoying. Maybe I'm so socially inept that it's awkward to spend any amount of time with me. Maybe I have strange mannerisms. Maybe I make a lot of stupid jokes. Maybe I'm just stupid (I really hope that isn't true!). No matter how much I think this blog is a more or less true representation of me, there are of course pieces that are missing, and pieces that can't be known without actually meeting someone face to face.
The same rule holds true for twitter, facebook, and of course internet dating. It makes sense to date on the internet: you can find someone with common interests and goals and whatever. It just seems that it's so easy to lie on those websites and represent yourself as someone else. Take profile pictures, for instance. I would bet that most people pick the one picture taken 5 years ago where they look like a supermodel even if since then they've gained 300 lbs and developed a disfiguring fungal growth on their face. I have never done online dating but I fully admit that if I were on a dating website that's what I would do. I'm still mostly bald, I'm not about to put a picture of my bald self out there for everyone to ignore. I can make myself feel bad enough without having anonymous jerks on the internet do it for me! And what about those intangibles that aren't communicated through dating profiles? I doubt there is a box to check for "inability to feel compassion" or other personality quirks that might be deal-breakers.
What if the personality you present on the internet is much more annoying than your real personality? I think about people - well, one person in particular - who when I was on twitter used to complain constantly about everything. Now I have a bad impression of this person and I have no idea if it's a correct impression because I have only met them once. But I'll tell you what, I have very little desire to meet them again because of the personality they presented on twitter.
Do you think your internet footprint represents who you are? Do you keep your personality concealed online or do you let it all hang out? Do you think you'd like me in person?