Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Identity and Persona

I return to the idea of identity and persona periodically. This is more Stream of Consciousness than Shaped Thought, but here it is.

Ones persona is made of many different aspects. We each wear a variety of masks and faces in our lives that may reveal or hide those aspects. Sometimes we tailor those masks or faces for different circumstances. We have our work face with the boss, with clients, with our partner, friends, or family members, when we are the leader or when we are a participant. Maybe our choice depends on the task at hand, or who others expect us to be. Maybe it depends on our reasons for doing something. Maybe it depends on who we *want* to be or who we think we *should* be.

The divisions between different faces seem to show up particularly well online or other public venues, maybe because others see only a certain slice of who we are, who we present. Online, it's very easy to show only what you want to show. One can try on a different face or persona, or let out or indulge aspects that don't get much play in real life. Sometimes just playing out another aspect of oneself can be very freeing, regardless of who sees or reads it. Blog as confessional! Or as inspirational. Or as venue.

Here's where the audience and its impact comes in. I've seen lots of ways this plays out in blogs and on Flickr and other online communities. There are lots of permutations, but basically, we all like acknowledgment. When someone throws something out there for the rest of the world, there's always that fear that we will be seen as lame or boring. We write and photograph and "present" with more intensity in anticipation of the audience's reaction, for good or bad. And when something gets a reaction, well, we adjust. There's the glow, rush, or inspiration of a positive reaction, or the chagrin, humiliation, or anger of a negative one. Or maybe a thoughtful reaction evaluating what you liked or didn't like about what you did. And then... well, we adjust ourselves like sunflowers following the sun. Feels sooo good to get a positive reaction! Yeah, you know it does. Nothing wrong with that.

If we do this often enough, though, our audience may come to expect us to be a certain way, the way they have come to know and love (or hate) us. It's not bad. One can be spurred by that attention to do more, create more, shape more. But then, maybe you want to write or photograph or create something a little different than you had before... and your fans may be "like, uh, that's interesting, but..." And the aspects of your persona that attracted some people may shift.

Maybe this is where the concept of "selling out" could be footnoted, because yeah, we want to please our audience if they've been good to us. Ones audience may become a little demanding that you are not giving them what they want--more writing, more art, more funny stories, more cool stuff, more things for them to get upset about, more news of note, more quality entertainment, more mindless entertainment(!). Anyway, more of something. More of yourself, your product. Your product may BE yourself. Or at least that self that you put into your work. Oy! Gotta keep up.

One feels a responsibility to one audience. We may feel compelled to live up to that (whether to follow our inspirations or to ride the wave of feel-good attention), or reject it (as too much responsibility or as an energy suck or as brainless demanding), or...

I don't know about you, but it can be a little much. Since I don't have much of an audience, I mostly write for myself, even though I could just as easily write in a private journal. But hey, I like the extra motivation of a potential audience, however mythical or inconstant.

Online, I am several people. They are all me, but most times I don't want to share all aspects of myself at once. I do cluster around some topics of interest. Sometimes those interests lead me to show a different persona depending on how I am when I work with a topic.

Innocent-cynic, I sometimes say. I am sensitive to many disgraces of society. I feel things maybe a little too keenly at times. I can be grouchy and morose, even morbid. I sometimes feel caught in railing against prejudice and injustice and unfairness. To counter-balance that tendency to get caught in the dark stuff, I also let out my breezy, enthusiastic side. That is as much "me" as the grouchy side. In fact, it may be *more* me, even though I get the feeling that the happy stuff is not always as interesting as the dark stuff. From some people I get the attitude that it's uncool to be so enthusiastic. If that is a problem, just bite me! *smiley face!* I am sometimes sunny and enthusiastic. Deal. (This would be me rejecting the selling.) And then there's the sarcastic side. The high-verbal literary side. The insecure pretentious side. The formerly-known-as-artist side. The logical side. The friendly and helpful side. The impatient side. The go-hide side. The lateral thinker. The touchy bitch. The compassionate Speaker-for-the-Dead. The quirky-humorous side that eventually bleeds into any public persona. To name a few.

Even in real life, there's the part of me who enjoys being on stage, orchestrating the program, the participants, enjoying the result of all my hard work of preparation and practice. There's also the part of me who doesn't want to be known, to stay inside and keep my thoughts to myself. Blogging or Flickring allows me to play, to explore, to let some of my personas out to play. Whee!

And then sometimes I have to withdraw and take care of my real life and my INNER life. I like, though, how blogging lets me play with both the inner and outer life at once, motivating me to shape a little more of myself and send it out in the world. File that under outer persona in the service of inner work. Pretty cool, huh? Who do you want to be in the world?


Neil said...

This is a subject matter I think about alot, and I'm still not clear which is my real persona -- the one on the page, the one readers may see in me, the one I show in public, or the one that only I see in my own head.

Joy! said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joy! said...

Neil, that's another angle I'm interested in--how the self-image and the public image (and for that matter the reality) may be mismatched.

I tend to think that we have multiple personas (personae?) but they may get hidden or shown in different circumstances. Or maybe we present a mask to the world showing one aspect at a time.

Am I using persona right? Okay, the dictionary says:
persona - a person or the public role or character he (sic) assumes. The characters in a play, novel, etc. From the Latin mask or character.

Maybe "persona" is inherently a part that one plays. So maybe all your persona are real, but some feel more real that others according to your core identity? I don't know.

Shalet said...

I think we all have multiple personalities or personas. The internet simply lets one filter it better than real life. I think you'll find smaller, more intimate online groups allow you to be more of yourself than the internet as whole. Can't wait to read more of your writing.

Joy! said...

"filter it better"

Ah, yes! That phrase grabs me. We filter who we are to show certain angles in better light. So all of our angles/personas are "us," but others may see only certain ones depending on the filter or angle, like the fifth dimension of artistic expression! (ha!) I'll have to think/play more with that idea.

Lori said...

I really enjoyed this post and it's had me thinking for a few days now about people I "know" online and how others "know" me.

I think so many of the little details don't come through when people are writing online, partially because they aren't details a person would think to write and partially because perhaps they aren't aware of the particular details.

Conversely, I think we often choose to share a part of ourselves, especially within a somewhat anonymous environment, that we wouldn't share with our real life friends and acquaintances.

Kyran said...

I found this interesting, and kirtsy worthy: