social identity problems (and a commentary on the recent fb changes)

There are a lot of ways to create social identity on the internet these days. With the addition of google plus to my social networking, i now have six regular social identities, which feels like a hell of a lot and thus necessitates some analysis and introspection. Specifically, i’m trying to hone in on what i feel the role that each of these social identities have in my overall online social presence – compare and contrast how i choose to share myself through these mediums, particularly the ones that are very similar in nature and thus have a lack of focus or distinction about them, and then hopefully be able to answer how all of these reflect my Actual Identities in real life.

In other words, how do i choose to use facebook differently than google plus? What would make me write a blog entry on my domain blog vs. my livejournal? What constitutes a twitter status over a fb status or a g+ stream post? Some of these questions can be answered, but some of them cannot, and it’s the ones that cannot that i feel i need to focus on and refine.

With my two blogs, i deliberately separate what content i choose to put where. My livejournal blog is about my life and my friends and thoughts of a more personal nature, whereas this wordpress blog is my more public face with content bent towards thoughts of a more long-winded and cerebral nature. I call this wordpress blog my thoughts blog. I call my LJ my life blog. Even though there is sometimes a degree of blur, i think it’s pretty clear to myself and to my audience what content belongs where.

It’s this sort of distinction that i feel like i need to have between facebook and google plus. Like my two blogs, i feel like the purpose and audience of those are very similar, and therefore the uniqueness of them comes entirely from the content that i choose to write. despite the fact that one *could* use fb in the same way as g+, doing so arbitrarily is problematic because of the audience i’m trying to reach. I want my friends on fb to get something different than those who subscribe to my g+ feed. To have a heavy degree of duplication or even similarity in style between those two feels wrong; someone would likely only subscribe to one or the other, or those that subscribe to both wouldn’t get much different out of one versus the other, and that’s not what i want.

Despite the recent changes facebook has made that has seemed to alienate some people, facebook still holds my largest audience and thus it acts as my “hub” for most of my other social media, meaning that i import some of my tweets to fb, i post links from select blog entries here and LJ to fb, and i post links from my youtube page to fb. But i don’t want to use facebook as a hub for google plus. Google plus needs to stand out on its own in the same way that my blogs stand out on their own.

But how should that happen? I don’t really want fb or google plus to have the same professional vs. personal distinction that my blogs do. And despite my desire to not have a heavy degree of duplication between fb and g+, the fact is that what i choose to share of myself on the internet doesn’t have much content variance other than that.

So maybe this is an opportunity to change that. g+’s Circles has a great deal of flexibility as it relates to selective sharing, so it’s possible that i could write things of a more personal nature if i structure it in a way that i trust. Or maybe this is an opportunity to ween myself off of any direct relationship to fb and use it merely as a conduit, because the new changes that fb rolled out have some advantages, but they also a direction change for that platform that enhances everything about fb that i dislike.

That last statement warrants some expansion. There are two aspects of the new fb changes that bother me the most.

First is the upper right news ticker. That news ticker doesn’t seem like a huge change, but i have to hand it to fb: it’s absolute genius.

Tickers are one of the big reasons why i never watch rolling news channels and why i can have issues watching sports channels. When you first get introduced to the idea of a ticker, it seems like a big distraction, but the more you watch the channel, the more you get used to it and incorporate it into your understanding of how that channel works. I don’t watch sports obsessively, but i watch enough of it that that i don’t notice the bottom ticker unless i want to. I don’t watch news channels ever, so those tickers are a constant source of flash and distraction, but if i were to watch the channel more often, i know that i would absorb and become accustomed to it. And once you get used to the ticker being there and what it represents, the ticker’s purpose has been maximized: to provide another avenue of constant change of information that’s designed to keep you watching.

The internet in general hasn’t really used the ticker paradigm for much; the NFL uses a variant of it on their website with big neon flashing signs whenever there’s a score change or a big play during a game that you’re not tracking or watching. But now, fb is changing that game, using that ticker formula in a way that will try to keep people logged on that much more often because they can and will always look at it for change of information whether they want to or not. And sure, most people hate it now, but give it some time for people to get used to it, and before you know it, it will seem Normal, and that constantly shifting and changing ticker of useless information will help make fb an even bigger time suck than it already is.

Secondly, fb has added a higher degree of customizability to how people view their feeds, and normally as a guy who is all about data and loves having the ability to be versatile with it, the way in which fb has incorporated this flexibility is counter to how i want to use fb.

fb is a dominant part of our culture. i don’t think that it’s inherently bad or good; like any tool or piece of technology, how bad or good it is is dependent upon how it’s used.

My use of fb as both a poster and a viewer is deliberately designed to be all surface – as a poster, fb acts as a good conduit for me to contact people and to get some basic interaction with those people. What fb does *not* serve as is a place where i want to have any real meaningful interaction. It is not a platform for my political views, it is not a place where i want to divulge the real personal details of the person that i truly am, and it is not a place where i am going to put important details about anything going on in my life in a way that assumes that people who are close to me are going to read it.

As a viewer, i want to see on my news feed a slice of what has happened the most recently with whoever has happened to post. i don’t assume that my friends that post important information on fb expect me to get that information only from fb; if i catch it, awesome, but if i don’t, then it’s not a big loss because i would assume that the people closest to me would tell me important things outside of that fb context.

And this is where the customizability of the new fb becomes useless to me, because all of the customizability assumes that i want to control that information in a way that takes fb much more seriously than it should be taken. “i care the most about seeing feed items from these important people in my life, so i’m going to tailor my fb feed to see their stuff the most.” But the amount of time that it would take for me to micromanage and microcontrol fb’s settings to make it do what i want is simply not worth it. To customize it properly would take constant adjustment – more time spent on fb – just so that i can make fb more appealing to me – and thus spend even more time there than i currently do.

It’s food for thought. We’ll see what happens in the next month or so as fb and g+ and their respective userbase evolves, and as i start to refine my thoughts about how the fb shift and my use of both platforms could potentially change. i know i’m not going to delete my fb, but it may be that it becomes just my virtual business card – an easy way for people to reach me if they don’t have my current info – and not much else.

Mendel Lee

I'm a composer, musician, and music educator residing in New Orleans, LA.

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