Have you encountered the idea that there is not really a true “authentic” self, and that we don’t really have a fixed identity? We perform differently depending on the situations we encounter. The whole idea is a bit of a mind flip, but one that I have decided to throw myself into in the past month, in the interest of desperately trying to keep up with the times. If it all has gone a bit wrong, and you suspect that I am losing my mind perhaps you wouldn’t mind rescuing my mind from the hyperreality matrix (in the comments below please).
A little like William Shakespeare described in As You Like It, Erving Goffman described how we wear masks depending on the social situations we encounter and change these masks to carefully stage how we are coming across. Our personas also will change then depending on if we are on Facebook, with our grandparents or another platform.
I highly recommend you watch this short BBC produced explanation of Goffman’s ideas of the performed self.
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As I started reading more and more literature on this performed self my online persona started to change. I read and posted about how “Without external props, even our personal identity fades and goes out of focus. The self is a fragile construction of the mind”.
— Ricky Wright (@_ricky_w_) March 28, 2018
I read about poststructuralist theorists who showed how the unchanging true authentic self is an actually a myth. When Smith and Watson (2004, p.75) revealed that authenticity is “an effect, not an essence” this was a watershed moment. I knew there was something different about my persona but I didn’t know why until now. While others in my social media university course were posting pictures of their dogs, I was posting pictures of kale.
— Ricky Wright (@_ricky_w_) March 14, 2018
If authenticity was only an effect.
I finally had a voice that connected my personal experience to the wider conversation. I am now self-aware that I am performing but it’s a performance that allows that allows I present personal revelations, intimacy, and confession and bring them to the public discussion. In this way, I distinguish myself from those who share similar opinions to mine and help in the construction of my brand.
Retired Professor of Digital Media Howard Rheingold (2012) showed his students the importance of a public voice in performing a saleable identity:
With each post, I read, and with the content, I was reposting I realised I was becoming a curator for others. I had found a community where we all were having effects on each others identity. This seemed a healthy thing!
— Ricky Wright (@_ricky_w_) March 31, 2018
Not only was I projecting an ideal self-effect to bring others into my brand, I was constructing a memory bank. This had implications as I started to consider if I was becoming a different person. A better and improved “super-charged” version. My thoughts turned to fame. With each reading I was becoming increasingly convinced of the value performing a bold and dynamic online self, could have on my brand. I read from prominent theorists like David Marshal who joined the dots between celebrity culture and performing the self on social media and posted about it.
— Ricky Wright (@_ricky_w_) April 11, 2018
And then it happened.
In celebrity culture what we do is carefully construct a portrait of an ideal self through a performance of authenticity and attempt to make it appear natural, authentic and coherent.
Professor Andrew Potter of McGill University looks at the relationship between the search for authenticity and our tenuous hold on reality. He is the author of
One day while in mid-conversation with my professor, the change took place.
Did you just grow the fastest ever moustache? 🙂
— Lifelong Learner (@LearninByDoing) March 27, 2018
— Ricky Wright (@_ricky_w_) March 27, 2018
In my hipster turn, I was presenting myself in the best light to an audience of mostly inner Melbourne communications studies students.
I asked my wife if she thought if I was performing the hipster she said, “yes, of course, you are not a hipster”. But the thing is life is a performance, and we all behave differently depending on our audience. I’m not going to behave the same with my wife compared to when I have lots of time to consider and construct my latest performance update online. When I play as the hipster I play a simplified version of myself ready for consumption. Hobbs (2014, p. 107) shows how consumer lifestyles have emerged where identity and branding have become part of the consumption pattern of contemporary hipsters. When I am out there branding myself like I am complete with moustache, glasses and hairstyle I am playing a version of myself that likes to overthink things and get involved in conversations like this. I am, in a fun-loving ironic way, signifying my intention to fully participate in the great show of life we are all performing in our social media accounts.
Anyone who writes an article like however does have hipster traits, however.
Last night my wife was on Facebook and I asked her about her FB profile showing that she was obviously married to someone who presents themselves as a hipster. She eventual response was “that for once I had a cool online persona”. Egan (2011) shows Hipsters today represent a type of parody and that “such representations share only a partial, albeit humorous, likeness to reality”. By playing the hipster caricature, I am self-reflexively revealing to my public the fact that I am open and not hiding anything about my performance, and that I have a sense of humour. Presenting myself this way has a lot to do with packaging myself as a commodity.
And if you are reading this, it’s likely that you are a hipster too. Do you like coffee?
What are your ideas on this? Personally, I think we are more authentically ourselves when we perform. But that is an idea for another blog post.