On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.
On the Internet, you can be a wolf if you want to be.
Psychochild has been writing up a very worth-reading series of posts on social media this week: Your Best Foot Forward, Tribalism and Signaling, Blocking Others From Your Bubble, How to Improve Your Experience.
One thing that I did ask about was how exactly was the social media experience different from the rest of the Internet (be it blogs, forums, MMOs, whatever) or indeed, even in real life – as all the valuable stuff that Brian’s been talking about: projecting/assuming stuff about other people, the dangers of treating every issue as a dichotomy with two extremes where never the twain shall meet and forgetting all the people in-between, tribalism and fearing/hating the out-group, -also- happens to an extent in the other ‘mediums.’
He clarified that the main difference is mostly that of immediacy, that social media feels more ‘authentic’ and makes you feel like you’re closer to the ‘real’ person, and the limited amount of space to express oneself fully or to be clear in one’s meaning, which seems to exacerbate these issues and make the potential pitfalls inherent in the medium worth highlighting.
(After all, the Internet’s been around for some time and most people are aware of potential pitfalls there, leading to fond humor like “there are no girls on the internet” and “G.I.R.L – guy in real life.”
Ditto real life, especially in things like job interviews, where everyone is aware that there’s a game of putting one’s best foot forward in play.
Social media, though, is a slightly newer breed of communication medium that paints a veneer of ‘real life authenticity.’)
One of the things that I feel is worth highlighting is this obsession with ‘real life authenticity’ as being something valuable and a connection mechanism to keep striving for.
Does it really matter that much if the other party is male? Female?
The same age as you? Old enough to be your parent or grandparent?
Are all ten-year olds automatically obnoxious and immature and not worth associating with?
Heterosexual, LGBT, gender queer, all the other labels I have not kept track of, etc.?
One of my blog readers commented the other day that it seemed to be the first time I declared my nationality in a blog post.
Well, mostly I mentioned it because it was relevant to what I was writing about. Nor is it the first time. I have alluded to it or even outright mentioned it a number of times before (hurrah, search function), when relevant… such as in rants regarding region-locking *ahem, definitely relevant.*
Somtimes, I even outright answer it truthfully if an in-game stranger asks me that question. (Or I may pass and choose not to answer for reasons of privacy, or to avoid being asked a million and one questions due to the perceived ‘exoticism’ factor. Introvert, you know?)
But I rarely find it useful to keep throwing it in my readers’ faces, so to speak.
I mention it, they may remember, or they may forget. Doesn’t matter. Life goes on. They project who they want Jeromai to be. And, optimally, they keep reading me. (I hope.)
On my gaming blog, I make very little mention of nationality, race, skin color, age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, religious beliefs… what else am I missing… socio-economic status, dietary preferences, stances on abortion or gun control or evolution, political leanings… and lots more.
This is, to echo what Psychochild is saying, entirely intentional. A construct. Carefully cultivated.
For the purposes of discussing games with a freer hand, free from any automatic negative stereotypes by taking advantage of human nature to fill in the gaps with neutral or positive assumptions.
(And sometimes, I decide to shake up those assumptions with an offhand comment or two, when it is relevant to the topic being discussed. Because in my own sneaky way, I want people to form new, broader thoughts about their in-groups and communities, especially in this global age.)
It is good to be aware that said construct exists. That it is made. That it is a mask.
That is not to say that it is not real or ‘true’ in its own way.
One of the most valuable things about the anonymity of the Internet is that ability to mask irrelevant facts, so that other important messages come through first, without a book being judged by its distracting cover.
(It can also be used to cover up inconvenient facts, so that a prettified message comes through first, as Psychochild has mentioned.)
Our real life selves tell one story. (Or multiple stories – if we hold various work, play, family identities.)
Our online avatars tell another. (Or multiple stories – if you’re an altholic *coughs*.)
And I, personally, would not be the one to tell another that his or her “avatar” is fake and not real, a carefully crafted lie, and therefore meaningless and untrue.
Such is the paradox.
We all wear masks.
And perhaps, that statement is not as frightening as it first sounds.
We are all different.
We are all the same. (And for those interested in how to find common ground, I wrote about it from a game perspective some time ago. PvE vs PvP, up in arms again, and how mediation works.)
We are all still human. (Until the aliens officially arrive, someone teaches a dolphin how to talk online, or something.)
And on this blog… in this carefully crafted space, with these carefully crafted words… I hope, united in our love of game.