A few months ago, one of my friends posted this as her facebook status:  “I’ll be doing something, and I’ll think to myself, ‘this would be a great thing to post’ and then I’ll think about how I would phrase it! Good grief!”  It sounds like she’s stuck in a self-reflective loop.  Ever since humans developed a sense of self we’ve been thinking about how to portray some aspect of that self to others.  We’ve always been selective about what we revealed to others, as documented by Erving Goffman in works such as The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.  However, my friend’s comment suggests that such impression-management not only has intensified in this age of social media, but that social media makes impression-management more central than it ever was to our sense of who we are.

I was thinking of my friend’s post when I read an interview with psychologist Sherry Turkle in Monitor on Psychology, a magazine for members of the American Psychological Association.  Turkle has studied how social media and texting are changing our interpersonal relationships; she wrote Alone Together, a book on the topic.  Turkle has found that today’s teens are becoming more uncomfortable conversing in person, preferring to interact through a technological intermediary.  I was struck by the following statement:

“When teens tell me that they’d rather text than talk, they are expressing another aspect of the new psychological affordances of the new technology — the possibility of our hiding from each other. They say a phone call reveals too much, that actual conversations don’t give them enough control over what they want to say.”

So much of the appeal of texting and social media are in what they allow us to hide.  The telephone, an earlier technology which itself elides considerable information about those with whom we’re conversing, is now seen as too revealing.  As we reduce the amount of information we reveal to others, it is likely that our self-concepts are also becoming more constricted, since what expands our sense of self is often having someone else point out something about us that we hadn’t realized.  Psychologist Carl Jung used the term ‘persona’ to refer to the aspect of ourselves that we show to others.  Some people think they are nothing more than their persona, but most realize there is much more to them than that.  The problem with the facebook self–those aspects of our lives that make for good anecdotes to post as status updates—is that it doesn’t allow much room for feedback about aspects of ourselves outside our awareness, so that it’s more likely that we’ll equate ourselves with our persona.

Kierkegaard said we are all in despair because we want to be a self but are unwilling to be the self we actually are before God.  His description of the human condition harkens to the Genesis account of Adam and Eve seeking to hide their nakedness from God.  Perhaps Kierkegaard would say that the increasing extent to which we’re hiding ourselves from one another is deepening our despair.   Not only are we unwilling to be a self of depth and complexity before God, but we are also becoming less willing to show that sort of self to one another.