Sunday, January 22, 2012

On Being Authentic

I recently attended a presentation by a lady who is involved in a large research project on the use of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and so on amongst young people.  I cannot remember exactly what body is overseeing the project but I think I recall it may be connected to The University of Navarre in Pamplona, Spain.  Whoever it is, it is a very extensive study and will have a lot of prestiege when it is completed because of the huge number of young people partaking across Spain and Portugal and the sheer number of questions on the questionnaire. It will be some time before all the findings of the study are published but some very interesting trends are already being displayed.

 Now this post is not going to be about those findings as I would really need to read up my notes and make sure I had my facts correct, but one thing this lady pointed out that is emerging across each region where the study is taking place...the undeniable fact that up to 98% of teenagers have two Facebook accounts, unknown to their parents!!  When the researchers presented this fact to parents in class after class, none of the parents believed that their child had two accounts.  Even the most vigilant of parents who thought they had full access to their teen's account could not swallow the undeniable evidence.

When I returned home I asked my own teens were they aware of this practice and they both confirmed that most of their friends have a Facebook account hidden from their parents and other significant adults in their lives.

Neither is this post a treatise on what parents and teachers are supposed to do about this, but the one piece of advice recommended by the researchers was do not go home and throw out the computer and  all the handheld devices in the house!! That is not the solution.  This double life is a problem of character and therin lies the solution.

Anyway it got me thinking about the way we present ourselves online or elsewhere.

Have a look at this short clip from Alice In Wonderland...


And now ask yourself the question...

Now you and I may not have two Facebook accounts...who would we be hiding them from?  If you're hiding an account from your spouse there are some serious questions to be asked, but presuming that's not the case...what about our online persona?  Are we the same person in our online interactions as we are in our real life? (Though I am of the strong belief that the people we interact with online are also real.).  Would for example our family recognise our online person to be the person they know?

I remember the first time one of my older children demonstrated a simple Photoshop programme to me.  She took a contemporary photograph of me, reduced the fine lines around my eyes, touched up my skin tone, improved my hairstyle and tidied up a few bits and pieces...

Lo and behold..there I was!!!

Me...but not me.

I was so thrilled!!

My new Facebook profile picture!!

I was suddenly swept away by a rush of vanity, ego, flattery...and an utter lack of authenticity.

The photo-shopped photograph was clearly me but to attempt to pass it off as a real representation of how I look would have been dishonest and no different to hiding an account from someone. It wasn't showing my real self, fine lines and all.  It struck me how the temptation to present ourselves as something we perceive to be just a little bit better, more hip, more knowledgeable, more...shall I say it..interesting...can slip into our interactions.  Sure, post the photographs of ourselves we like the best, who doesn't want to accentuate the positive?  I know I always cringe a little when I  see that someone has posted or tagged a picture of me as it takes a bit of neck to ask them to remove it. But at what point does a little exaggeration become a lie?

I once worked with a guy whose stories were so tall as to not even come into the category of lies.  He was so funny and interesting but there is just no way it was humanly possible that all things he claimed to have happened to him or to have witnessed could have really occurred.
For one thing, his life just wouldn't have been long enough.

The story was all-important and authenticity was paid little or no lip service.

Do you remember the personality tests that were so popular a number of years ago in magazines and periodicals.  Mostly 'A's you were this...mostly 'B's you were that.  It was very easy to quickly deduct which answers would place you in the category you wanted to be in.  Nobody was ever going to see the results except ourselves and yet it was still so tempting to appear better, even in our own eyes.  Now those tests were simply light entertainment and a bit of fun but take that a bit further and on a Saturday evening your Facebook status reveals you are popping a bottle of Dom Pérignon with Mr Suave when we are really having a bottle of cheap Prosecco from a German discount supermarket with Mr Normal Man.

Is it an exaggeration that would count as a lie?  Maybe...maybe not.  
Is it good example to our children?  I don't think so. It just might be the thing that allows them to excuse their hidden account in their own mind.

Pope John Paul II, in his letter to families, Familiaris Consortio, urged Christian families to 'Be what you are'.

Good advice to apply to ourselves.  Am I real...or not real?

Get Real.

And you'll never know whether I used the photo-shopped photograph as my profile picture ;-)

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  1. Wow, that's really sad about so many teens hiding accounts from their parents...scary even.

    For some of our professional pictures, I don't mind a little touching up (that's what I pay for anyway, right?) but I am glad that everyday pictures look like me, so that someday my kids will be able to look at the pictures and actually see their mom. I have a friend that won't put any picture online before touching it up, which I think is sad too. But then again, unlike many people, I only am friends with people on facebook that I'm really friends in person with, so they know what I actually look like and would call me out if I tried to put up pictures of me looking like a supermodel.

  2. Too true Mandi! I have quite a few friends on FB that I wouldn't have known otherwise due to my little girl's rare condition, kind of an online 'we're in this together' group. I guess you could pull the wool over people's eyes but in the end 'Murder and Truth Will Out'


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