Since its launch in 2004, Facebook has become omnipresent in American culture, especially, I have discovered, in college. Along with Twitter, Facebook definitely has its benefits: we can easily connect with friends around the world in a matter of clicks through status updates and photos. But at the same time, social networking has some interesting effects, namely how we view ourselves in relation to what we post on the Internet.
Social networking essentially allows us to create a “brand” of ourselves. Most of us want to present our best possible selves to our friends on the Internet, which is why we actually devote time to scrolling through our recently tagged photos to find that perfect profile picture, why we spend half an hour crafting that timely, clever tweet, and why we are probably overly picky about what movies we say we “like.” This obsession with self-presentation may seem like a horrible waste of time, but if anything, I’ve learned that people actually pay attention to how their friends appear on the Internet. For instance, hours after “liking” Miley Cyrus’s Facebook page, my friend asked me if I was trying to be ironic (I wasn’t). The fact that she even noticed I had absentmindedly declared myself a Miley Cyrus fan reminded me that literally any of my friends could find out basically anything they wanted about me, as long as I made that information available to them.
In some strange way, we also tend to measure popularity based on our social networking abilities. Any college student who says he or she has never gotten that warm and fuzzy feeling when their status gets 30 likes or when their tweet gets 15 retweets is probably lying. This sense of belonging online only really enhances that need we already have to make ourselves look good all the time.
As in the real world, it’s not really possible to look cool on the Internet 100% of the time. All of these websites and apps that are now connected to Facebook really just seem like methods of embarrassing us by reporting everything else we do on the Internet. For example, last year Spotify, a free playlist-making service, shared with all of my friends that I had just listened to an entire playlist consisting of Hilary Duff music, information that I definitely wouldn’t have personally broadcast to 500 people. Additionally, unflattering pictures are basically unavoidable (unless you happen to be extremely photogenic), and hacked statuses are some people’s favorite way to make you look dumb in front of everyone you know. As much as we obsess over making ourselves seem cool and popular online, there will always be moments that undercut our efforts.
The easiest way to approach social networking, at least in my opinion, is not to obsess over every last thing. If that tweet you thought was hilarious didn’t get any retweets, or that new cover photo that you meticulously chose from your collection of scenic shots didn’t get any complimentary comments, does it really even matter? Yes, people may actually pay attention to your online activity, but no one who’s not close friends with you in real life will admit it if they thought you were a little weird because of one awkward moment online. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the little details of Facebook and Twitter and to forget that both are basically just tools that allow us to rapidly connect and communicate with the people we care about in a way that wasn’t this easy just ten years ago. Being a true version of ourselves on the Internet is much better than any alternative. And I, for one, refuse to “unlike” Miley Cyrus.