My internet personality includes a Facebook Page, but it is so locked down I doubt anyone who does not know me extremely well could find me. I have only close friends on my list of friends so in that context, it is easy to be transparent about whom I am. As an experiment, I am looking into online dating to see if people represent themselves online as they do in person. Since I am opening myself up to a new type of online community, I figured I could get some of my questions answered. Do people represent themselves online in a correct manner? If I find someone who looks interesting, will my newly discovered “prince” become a toad in real life?
In order to get started on my experiment, the online dating site first had me build a profile about who I am. Many publications about online communication discuss the concept of building a profile.
“Establish contact with each other by introducing yourselves. In order for the project to work, it’s important to build the right foundations, so this first part of the online discussion will be relatively extensive. For example, write a 500 word portrait of yourself, trying to give you counterpart/s a comprehensive idea about who you are” (Thurlow, 2004, p. 171).
Posting a short essay about who I am was more difficult than I thought. Deciding what to tell a virtual stranger about myself leaves me vulnerable to many different impressions. There is even a mindset that you must post what will bring you the most interest. One Scientific American article talked about one person’s view on marketing “Chris was in marketing, you see, and to her it was simply a good strategy to post photographs that would draw in as many "customers" as possible” (Epstein, 2007, p.1). I finally ended up explaining that I was a professional and a student and I was simply looking at the site to see what it had to offer. I chose not to post a picture of myself so people I knew would not recognize me instantly. Once my profile was in place I began my search to see how other people represented themselves.
To my surprise, I found one of the men I often see running on the Spokane’s Centennial Trail. A few months ago, he took the time to introduce himself to me. At that time, I asked a few people who were in his social circle about him. One of my friends told me he was a total player and when they saw him with a woman they thought, “Look, there is the next victim.” I decided to ask a second friend without giving her the first friend’s opinion. Her reply can in an e-mail written in all caps “TOTAL PLAYER AND CONFIRMED BACHLOR.” I re-read his profile and there was nothing in there to suggest that he was a player and was not interested in a lasting relationship. As close as he got to revealing that he did not want a lasting relationship was, “I'm just looking for person that is compatible with me and would like to share common interests.” Nevertheless, I would have to read between the lines to figure out this means he does not want a relationship. His profile made him sound like a great person, completely different from what others had told me. Perhaps this is a form of identity play for him. “CMC offers a special opportunity for identity play – pretending to be someone else or just portraying different aspects of yourself” (Thurlow, 2004, p. 100).
The next person I found on the dating site I did not know but I decided to wink at him because he seemed like a nice person and was visually appealing. His profile said he was not “a jerk or a player” at least twice. He came across as athletic, smart with a romantic side. There was not a single mention of liking to party or drink. He winked back but I did not reply because I was now on a mission to find out who he was. While I was on Facebook looking at my friend’s updates, I saw this man was friends with someone I knew. This made it easy to look at this man’s Facebook page. What a difference; on Facebook he portrayed himself as a partier. The majority of the pictures on his Facebook were of him with a beer in his hand hanging out with a bar crowd. I do not know if he portrays one side of himself to his dates and another with the guys. Either way it was enough information for me to say, ‘No thanks, I prefer someone who does not feel he needs to hide his “real” personality.’
“Current theorists now regard identity as being much more flexible, multidimensional and … socially constructed … It is a process we are working on all the time” (Thurlow, 2004, p. 97). Perhaps these men are just working on portraying the identity into which they were evolving. Perhaps it is too much pressure. “Among the 125 million people in the U.S. who visit online dating and social-networking sites are a growing number of dullards who steal personal profiles, life philosophies, even signature poems” (Saranow, 2008, p.1). Nobody wants to advertise himself as a jerk, and people try to put their best face forward, but there is a fine line when a person’s online persona and their real persona are two different people. These two examples of online identities did not put me at ease about finding a “real” relationship online. I worry that once I get past the initial impression I will find that my prince has become a toad.
Epstein, R. (2007). The Truth about Online Dating. Scientific American, Retrieved from: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-truth-about-online-da
Saranow, J. (2008). The Cut-and-Paste Personality. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120303234117369959.html
Thurlow, C., Lengel, L., and Tomic, A. (2009). Computer mediated communication. London: Sage Publications Ltd.