In response to Tuesdays class discussion and Dr. Schirmer’s article, “The Personal as Public: Identity Construction/Fragmentation Online,” I’d like to propose another way of looking at how we present ourselves online: facets.
The analogy works pretty well for all aspects of our interpersonal lives, actually. Let’s use a precious stone like an emerald for our example. The stone starts off kind of unremarkable, really. Gemstones in their natural states aren’t the clear, sparkly bursts of light we associate with their end product. Assuming you have a stone of appropriate clarity and worth, it still needs to be cut and polished. It takes a skilled lapidary to study the stone and see the gem within, and a slow, careful process to whittle away just the right amount in the right places. The lapidary makes choices based on the application (pendant, ring, earrings) about how each facet should be oriented to get the best use of light from the gem. While the facet everyone focuses on – the one that is displayed most prominently to the world – gets all the attention, the supporting facets throughout the rest of the stone are crucial. Channeling light to the clearest, most pristine part of the internal stone and away from the imperfections is a task made possible by all the supporting facet working as a whole, not just the most prominent facet alone. If faceting is done incorrectly, the gem would be little more than the dull, unremarkable stone it started as.
Now think of the selves we present to the world. I firmly believe that every presentation of ourselves, both digital and physical, is part of a whole. We start life as an uninteresting wiggly lump and soon begin the faceting process. It starts out external until we’re old enough to chart these paths for ourselves, but the process leads to the same end. We choose the single best side of ourselves to display most prominently, but rely on the lesser noticed aspects – sometimes our imperfections – to give support and context to our public face. This extends online just the same. It’s not that we’re different people in different online settings, it’s that we use different facets of our personality in different settings, and its always in service of the whole personality.