Social Media? Break a Leg!


Last night, I went to the College of Communications Pockgrass lecture on Social Media, given by Zizi Papacharissi. To be honest, it wasn't totally my cup of tea. Maybe it was the hour, maybe it was the fact that it was so overly academic, but I didn't get a whole lot of new ideas out of it. Perhaps it was the terminology flying around ("mis en scene?" Seriously?), but I would have far further enjoyed a lecture that discussed the research while still drawing helpful, applicable conclusions. Not to be snarky (nod to @MaxSpiegel), but it felt like the new school was trying a bit too hard to fit into the old school (I repeat: "mis en scene?" "MIS EN SCENE?"). 

However, one thing Papacharissi said did stick with me--her notion of social networking and social media as performative. I thought about that a bit over the course of the evening and this morning, and I think it's true, at least to some degree. Let me 'splain.

Some of you who follow me on Twitter and Facebook might notice that my general morning post is something like, "Good morning, everyone! Happy Tuesday!" or some such. I sound perky as hell, annoyingly so, even. The truth is, I'm generally (though not always) un-caffeinated, ready to head back to bed, and cranky as hell. In other words, "perky" I am not. That definitely fits into the notion that my post is some kind of performance. But here's (especially to me) the question: Is it therefore inauthentic?

If it is inauthentic, then I should be posting how I'm really feeling, which is something to the tune of "Holy shit--AGAIN with the alarm? Crap." Honest. Real. Un-caffeinated, as I've said. 

But here's the thing--I don't want to feel like that in the morning. I want to feel perky. I want to feel like I'll wrestle Tuesday into submission, and I want to feel like hopping out of bed with a smile on my face. And posting as if I were already wearing a smile actually helps me to feel that way. 

Did you ever hear the saying about smiling even if you don't feel like it, because it improves your mood? It's true. I feel that every day. Posting as if I'm energized makes me feel energized, and so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is especially true when someone else comments on my post, saying "I'm in!" or "Thanks, Stevie! You have a good day, too!" At that point, we are mutually cheering each other. 

David Eddings wrote that "the word gives meaning to the event." Somehow, I think that a chipper post that makes me chipper is one way this works. And if my apparent cheer brings a smile to someone else, or helps them get on their way, or even makes someone roll their eyes because they know I'm not wholly awake (I'm looking at you, @Robin2go), then I still stand by my posts' authenticity.

My friend Nancy pointed out in discussing this that any public face we put on (in a meeting, at work, even with friends) is essentially performative. And I think she's right. We perform, to some extent, all day, every day. But performative acts are not necessarily inauthentic, because the goal is to be in community with each other. One day, I may not be able to muster up the cheer--but that will be okay, I think. Others will step in and support me. And how can I not do the same? 

One of my favorite essayists is Robert Fulghum, he of "Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten." Part of that essay is the quote, "When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together." That's what we're doing in social media. So let's grab a hand, everyone, and get out there! :)


I would claim that everything we do, in public or in private, as performative. We are in this constant state of becoming which requires us to act. It's very authentic.

Good post.


Stevie: Well said. This reminds me of a blog post that I wrote for Cole Camplese & Scott McDonald's Disruptive Technology course back in '08.

Don't You Forget About Me
By JOHN JOSEPH DOLAN on April 29, 2008 4:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)

Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you’re crazy to make an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us… In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain…”
ANDREW (vo): “…and an athlete…”
ALLISON (vo): “…and a basket case…”
CLAIRE (vo): “…a princess…”
BENDER (vo): “…and a criminal…”
BRIAN (vo): “Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.

Though it’s over (throat constricting) TWENTY years old, I think this closing speech from the Breakfast Club has a strong connection to our discussions about identity this semester.

We have spoken at great length about identity over the last fifteen weeks. Some believe that we have but one identity and choose to show different sides of it depending on the situation and who we’re sharing with. Others believe we have discrete identities (work me, school me, family me, friend me, by myself me) but it could be argued that is the same thing as simply having different sides of one identity. Fine. However, I proposed in my “Identity is in the Eye of the Beholder” post that it really doesn’t matter how we define ourselves, because it’s everyone around us who really decides. We lead very busy lives, and though it would be nice if everyone really took the time to know everyone else, more often than not, like Mr. Vernon above, a label is assigned pretty early on so as to allow for categorization and filing away, resulting in a “oh, so she’s one of those. . Got it. Next!” types of thought processes.

How society perceives us is dictated by not only our direct words and actions, but also by how behave when we’re just going about our business, i.e., (or is it e.g.?) are we nice to the checker at the supermarket, do we throw litter in the parking lot, do we yell at our children in public, do we recycle, etc. Our online identities, on the other hand, are man-made. We have no online identity if we never go online. How we present ourselves to the online community is of our own making. As a result, it would seem natural that most people would want to promote themselves in the most positive way possible online. Blog posts are thoughtfully written; tweets are witty and clever; podcasts are scripted or outlined. So if I’m reading your blog, do I really have a sense of your identity? Do you have a sense of my identity by reading mine? I would argue that you know what I want you to know, and vice versa.

We as educators have different views on what and how to share our identities with our students. Some are all business: no discussion or peek into life outside the classroom whatsoever. Others err on the side of getting too personal. Disruptive technology can aid in communicating a teacher’s identity, and allow him or her to learn more about students’ identities. Perhaps if Mr.Vernon had been able to peruse the online musings of the Breakfast Club, he wouldn’t have had to ask them to write an essay on who they were. And he might have shown a different side of himself if they were able to do the same. But to think that would give a complete picture of the individual is unrealistic. Only through putting all the pieces together—what we observe, what we read, what we experience when we interact, etc.—will any of us truly get a more complete & accurate sense of a person’s identity, and see that we are all a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Cue Simple Minds here . . .

Very nice post Stevie. As the lecture was going on, and more so now that I read your post, I was thinking of William Burroughs. A New York Time article says:

"Nobody better embodied the maxim that the true subversive always travels in disguise than William Burroughs. Transgressive novelist, junkie, homosexual, erratic marksman, Burroughs was invariably to be found dressed in a suit, tie and an expression of lugubrious inscrutability."

Burroughs said that he dressed that way not to hide who he was, but to not make the people he came into contact with uncomfortable. He sought genuine experience and wanted to enter it as neutrally as possible knowing full well that he was an odd odd man. His writing, however, hid nothing.

I feel like I work with social media with the same principle, but only because that is also how I live. I wear a sports coat, slacks and shoes every day to work. I hate shoes, blue jeans were invented just for me and the sports coat is my only real chance at flair. This is my disguise. Penn State pays me to wear it.

I don't propose that I am like William Burroughs. For one, that wouldn't bode well to my job security. But he is like a caricature of my more subtle oddness.

Social media is kind of like Hollywood life, in that, for the most part, we skip over the routine events in our day. The TV show 24, which by design shows us the real-time passing of full a day in the life of Jack Bauer, skips over biological functions and daily hygiene practices. When does he pee, shower and eat?

So my social media presence is a highlight reel of who I am and what I do.

Sometimes I feel disingenuous.

I joked the other day about someone becoming mayor of Planned Parenthood. We simply won’t see that. We do see a lot of tweets from waiting rooms. The time is on our hands and tends to be noteworthy events that we’re waiting for. I’ve seen mothers in the ER waiting for their children to be treated, orthodontist visits, vigils for the passing aged and so on.
One day, I was in waiting room and as usual had my magic phone in my hands browsing various social media sites. It was a very natural moment.

The reality was, though, that I was waiting to have my blood drawn for an STD test because my spouse had cheated on me. The despair of the moment was sobering and grounding and I sat and pondered the essence of that moment and my impulse to share it. This was VERY personal, heartbreaking, embarrassing, nay humiliating. What was I thinking? It was real and it was defining me and it was something that I ultimately did not share (until now, I guess). My daughter, aunts and uncles, not to mention the spouse were all my “friends”. I didn’t post it because they did not need to know that. I was broken down and willing to cry out, but in the end did not because I didn’t want to make them uncomfortable.

I am often on wrong side of TMI. I will not deny that I thoughtfully wield editorial control of my life’s story, but I strive for an authenticity for myself. I find that being open about my crazy, dysfunctional, degrading, embarrassing, humbling moments empowers the people in my life to reciprocate. Authenticity begets authenticity and this is where I find richness in this universe and the people I want in mine.

How does this fit with marketing? Very carefully.

Just wanted to say that I found this post, and the comments, very interesting to read.

And isn't that the jist of it? Be interesting. Don't be boring. TMI is interesting. I'm a big fan of TMI.

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