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Sunday, August 01, 2004

Platonic blogging

Do blogs reveal our real selves? That's the navel-gazing question of the day from Crooked Timber and Matthew Yglesias . As Belle points out, that's not likely as there is as much dodging and editing of one's self as there is in real-life conversations, if not more. Matthew points out that in order for that question even to have an answer, one has to accept the concept of a "real" self, which he does not. Being all post-modern and shit, I agree with him. The thing that we call a person's "real" personality is actually a fiction of sorts. Most people take a sort of average of their personality traits and desires and agree to express those and everyone else agrees to believe them.

If that doesn't make sense, I have a perfect example. When someone is "in love" with another person, that's not their ever-waking thought all the time. In fact, they may not even feel positively towards that person all the time. My boyfriend did something that irritated me yesterday and believe me, I was not swooning with love at that point in time. But since my "real" self loves him, I sort of faked it until my actual feelings came more in line with how my "real" self feels. (It took only a couple minutes, as these things do.)

How closely one's blog conforms to one's "real" personality is a complicated thing, I would imagine. Some people may actually present a balanced picture of how they present themselves to the world alongside a good sampling of their innermost thoughts and that might actually come close to what we would imagine is their "real" personality. Most of us have a specific focus that probably doesn't reflect the balance in our real-life personalities at all. For instance, Mouse Words Amanda obsesses over politics and feminism. And so does Real World Amanda, but not nearly as much as she obsesses over music, cats, her social life and, as of late, decorating her house. And trying to get someone to give her a good foot rub and wondering what she's doing wrong that this just doesn't seem to happen.

Belle comes very close to suggesting that part of what makes a blog close to one's "real" self relates to how well the way the blog reads conforms to how a person speaks. That's a tough one--my friends also tell me that my blog reads rather closely to how I speak. They're mistaken in the sense that my spoken word choice and grammar differs quite a bit from my blogging word choice and grammar. But I do write this thing as informally as I can, so in that sense they can "hear" the Real Life Amanda in it. Also, I really do speak with a similar tone, what with the sarcasm and the overly analytical approach to things. So, in that sense, it's a draw.

The thing I find oddest about the whole question is this--even if your blog reflects your "real" self very closely, it can't be a better reflection of your "real" self because the standard you're measuring it up to is the self outside the computer world, the physical being that is changable and more subject to the vagaries of physical life. We want to believe that we can project into the Internet world a distilled version of ourselves that is somehow more "real" than the one that is doing the projecting. This is not a new discussion by any means. I remember when the Internet first hit it big that there was a lot of joyous predicting that we would be freed from the mundane physical world to be our "true" selves in cyberspace as well as a lot of hand-wringing because it's supposedly easier to misrepresent yourself in cyberspace.

I blame the Platonic ideal, the idea that every imperfect, ever-changing thing on Earth has an ideal form in some sort of hazy plane that is what we recognize as the "real" version of itself. (Correct me if I have that all wrong.) It's a tempting idea that changability and physical manifestation of things is some sort of violation of their "true" nature. Think of how many times we draw on this belief in the course of a day. Someone who usually has a placid temperment loses his temper and we say that he is "not himself". You see this idea at work when you hear people try to define what "love" is--like the Bible verse that describes it as patient, non-judgemental, etc., as if "love" was this thing separate from the impatient, judgemental humans who do the actually loving. And it's what causes us to reject a physical definition of what our "true" selves are and hope that in the hazy world of cyberspace we can find an ideal, "real" version of ourselves.

But don't forget that "idealization" is a negative word in our modern world for a very good reason--because the ideal is the impossible and it's a waste of time to forever be chasing the impossible.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does blogging reveal our true selves? My answer is a definitive no. For those of us who have family members and co-workers that read our blogs, there is definitely a self-censorship in the works. While I might be more likely to say things on my blog that would make family bristle, there are other things I wold never mention in such a public forum. I will only say things on my blog for which I can be held publicly accountable.

Like you said, in my real life I obsess over much different things, and I know that I am far more intelligent in print than I am in person, partially due to punctuation and the editing out of filler like "uh," "like," and "dude." "Dude" finds it's way into my mouth far more than necessary.

See auto-biographical theory on this one, in addition to the meta-narratives in A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I would have far more to say on this if I hadn't just packed up all my books.

(I'm apparently also more intelligent with easy-accessible sources)



Blogger Stentor said...

the standard you're measuring it up to is the self outside the computer world, the physical being that is changable and more subject to the vagaries of physical life.I see it the opposite way. People assume that your in-person self is more "real" than your online self because the former is seen as being stuck with all these unchangeable and unchosen aspects. So we think of the "real self" as this sort of relatively fixed soul type thing that is revealed when people let their guard slip. But I think the chosen aspects of yourself, the sort of practices you act out, are just as "real."

And there's no single real self -- I make an effort to blather on about politics online, but in person I deliberately avoid talking about politics. I wouldn't say either "political junkie" or "apolitical" is somehow my "real" self and the other is a fake.


Blogger Amanda said...

Funny, it seems to me that post-modernism really is eating away at America's soul! I'll bet even many people who rail against it would definitely agree that a "real" self is a fictional entity.



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