Saturday, July 25, 2009

Secret Cindy: Who Are You Online?

Friends came up to me at a picnic and immediately asked about the motorcycle rally I attended. I blurted out a short description which had them laughing, “I didn’t need the Lane Bryant coupon and I’m not a lesbian.”

“That’s not what you said on Facebook, but I have a much better picture now.”

“Yeah,” I responded, “Lately I’ve been wishing I had a Secret Cindy account so I could be myself.”

Over the past couple of years I’ve happily added friends, acquaintances, political figures, co-workers, church members, family, and bloggers. I enjoy reading the news feed and keeping up with everyone, but I don’t know who I am now. When I post a status, who am I talking to?

I think some people don’t post status updates for exactly this reason.

I don’t have anything to hide. But if I posted the description of the motorcycle rally, people who don’t know me well might not understand my comment in the right context. I’ve always been overweight and have shopped at Lane Bryant. For many of the women, the rally was a chance meet up, but obviously not for me. If you aren't a close enough friend to know how I struggle with my weight and have close friends who are gay, you might misjudge my status.

A friend didn’t like how Barack Obama, as a candidate, changed his demeanor for different audiences. When he first mentioned it, I realized I do the same. I don’t speak with a friend from another culture the same way I speak to a politician. My word choice, speed, and content are different. Both online and offline, I have a diversity of friends. Isn't this true for all of us?

The situation on Facebook is perplexing, especially when professional contacts are included on your friend list. Obviously I would tell my family more intimate details about our weekend than I would share with a state delegate. Family want to hear about your kid's accomplishments but to everyone else it's bragging.

A friend who grew up down the street from me, couldn’t believe a current friend called me “Cindy” on Facebook. Didn’t I hate that? For 23 years I was against the nickname unless we were family or close friends, but as work blended with socializing, the distinction blurred. Eventually I felt silly telling people to call me Cynthia.

Now people from every part of my life are blended together on social networks. I’m very conscious of what each person thinks about every word I type. I'm concerned aboout what people will think.

I like sharing details of my life which helps me keep in touch and get to know others better, but it is difficult to speak to large, diverse audiences. Even though the message is the same, often the words need to be different. My status updates are generic and perhaps less fun, hence my wish for a wild and crazy Secret Cindy account because I like to joke around.

Who are you typing to?

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