Who are our personas?

“Sometimes, in fact, like a hunter in the forest, he spots the written quarry, follows a trail, laughs, plays tricks, or else like a gambler, lets himself be taken in by it.”(de Certeau)

The comments on my last post on personas were inspirational. We are mosaics in Twitter spaces as _thextraman_ noted. And most of us real flesh and blood creatures. Pierre phrased a superb question: Is our persona a hidden alter ego or our true conscious self over emphasized? which is related to Peter’s question: Who will I become in the cupboards and corridors of their imagination?

I started thinking about what is so compelling about Twitter and how it is different from other social media spaces like Facebook. I don’t propose to analyse the technical differences, I want to unpack the some of the social ritual aspects specific to my floating wold in Twitter. For me twitter is very much a ‘what if’ space. It is also a space where I can observe the resurgence of poetry. I can also observe how photography is used in everyday life as a form of communication.

In my stream, I see people trying to be the best they can be. Like Peter, I was surprised and at times overwhelmed by the levels of kindness and care expressed by people in this space. I am also aware of the pitfalls of utopian views of life and of our ever present desire to create utopias. Nonetheless, maybe this is a space where we are beginning experiment with new social rituals  which depend on the development an over-emphasised conscious self expressed through personas.

I wonder too, if this space encourages self reflexivity, particularly with regard to what we are projecting and transferring onto others and in turn what is being projected and transferred to us? Those of us who like to write, draw and take photos feed on the feedback which is generally very kind. I, for one, send critiques through whispers, I prefer not to do it in public. That is my upbringing. I have noticed others do the same. There is a veil between public and private operating in Twitter, or to use a theatre metaphor, a front and back stage (Goffman also uses this metaphor). So, to be egocentric do I assume everyone else is doing the same?

My assumption is that the timeline is public, even for those who protect their tweets, and if people reveal intimate details, that is a conscious choice on their part. And yet, I am uneasy about this assumption because I am drawing on rules of engagement for what can be said, who listens and who speaks from other contexts with which I am familiar.

But Twitter is a new context, where else can you go where you just drop in and out, engage in dialogues or monologues, stick up paintings, drawings, photos, poems, microfiction, blog links? And who are we in Twitter? If we assume a persona we need to maintain it, inhabit it and nurture it. Peter’s question about who we will become in the imaginations of others extends to who we shall become in our own imaginations as well. And Pierre is right too, we do over-emphasise aspects of ourselves through our personas, through the people we choose to follow and interact with.

To return to de Certeau, I suggest we are also our own quarry.


6 thoughts on “Who are our personas?

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Who are our personas? « Marousia -- Topsy.com

  2. There was an age when usenet had a flavor like twitter does now.
    I recall a time, 15 years ago, give or take, where different groups had a similar feel to my twitter stream. Instead of having a constant feed of small messages, I had to actively refresh, and pulled down posts of widely varying length. Usenet groupings were also selected differently – anyone could post to alt.this.and.that, after all, instead of having to follow or be followed to see the conversation. But personas existed there in something of the same way, and public (the boards) vs. private (e-mail) had similar divisions. The pace may have been slower, and it was rather less _multi_ media – photo sharing didn’t happen, for example, and the nature of topic-specific groups for the most part funneled conversations and interactions. However, if you got to know a bunch of people over times, some of the interactions, and more specifically, some of the persona generated, were, to my memory, very much a harbinger of what we see now in twitter.

    My end point is that I don’t think twitter is necessarily a brand new paradigm or context. I think it’s a refined one, tuned to the atmosphere of a party conversation, with more bells and whistles than ever before, but in many ways it harks back to chat rooms as old as YaleVM Relay mainframe based chat in the mid 1980’s. Some people have been interacting online for over 25 years, and some are only a fraction of that in total age and have been interacting online all their lives. I know there’s a difference between people who came to online social environments as adults, and those for whom those environments are just part of the everyday. I think online vs. in person ‘persona’ in that latter group is rather harder to differentiate.

  3. Certainly personas were used in the pre Browser net, but I think that the difference now is that this kind of communication has become mainstream. I am interested in the kinds of social rituals and genres developing around it on an everyday level. It is becoming integrated into the daily lives of a huge number of people, digital natives and migrants, and the numbers of each is increasing in line with population increases.

    Our personas also have to negotiate cultural differences here. Even if English is a common currency we each bring _cutural accents_ to our use of it and to patterns of interaction. For example, Australians share a dry sense of humour and use irony on a daily basis to establish a connection with people. Other folk who speak English do not necessarily get this.

    I think we become far more sensitive to the nuances we take for granted in our daily face to face interactions in the Twitter environment.

  4. It’s that veil between public and private that I find so fascinating about Twitter. While there is a solidly public space and a solidly private one, in practice it is more like a cocktail party where those spaces intermingle. There are concentric circles of private space that are porous to other private spaces, and the overlap is the public space. I tweet into the public space, but it’s likely only “heard” by those who are akin to me in some way. That’s me at the party, talking loudly so everyone can hear. But not everyone is listening — there are multiple conversations. As a party participant, I notice others’ conversations — if I like someone’s persona, and they are conversing with someone else, I get this feeling that I’m missing something. In party terms, I’m listening to that interesting woman in the corner talking to her friends and I only hear bits & pieces of it, and I want to join but — can I just walk over? It depends. Somehow we know when it’s ok, and I’d say that the barriers to entry are much lower on Twitter than at the party. But then you add to it this other, more private level — DMs and email — and it’s like that party where there are all these little rooms in the back you can go, just you and your friend. And people wonder — what are they doing? Are they getting stoned? Having sex? Playing music? What fun am I excluded from?

    One thing occurs to me as I’m writing this — I think it’s really important to remember how important the 140 character limit is to all of this. It sets the interaction length to a very WASPy level — you talk a little, I talk a little. Even if I’m a big talker, I can’t dominate the conversation. It’s equal. Given something like email — well, you know how it goes when one person writes a really long email, and the other writes a two-sentence reply. (Or when one person writes a really long comment on your blog — ahem.) So this agreement to speak short sentences is the new thing that makes Twitter different from anything before it because it enforces equal exchanges.

    A sort of testing ground for public/private veils can be found where you attempt to have two conversations (or more) at once — one private, the other public. When does this work, and when doesn’t it? What happens to the private conversation (assuming the person is also watching your public stream)? Well, I think it all depends, and I certainly don’t have enough experience in it, but I’ve noticed that it really depends on the relative alignment between the two parties you are conversing with — could be emotional alignment, intellectual alignment, whatever. If, for example, one is in a good mood, the other is depressed — what happens? Think about it. Assuming that the conversation with your depressed friend is private — when sees you jollying it up with the other person, she is liable to feel that you are — well, busy, if not downright insincere in your concern. What this exposes is the “persona-encapsulation” of the 140 character limit. I am able to switch between the two conversants only because a) it’s text, and b) I’m only committing myself to 140 characters at a time. Is that 140 characters of genuine emotion, or of persona? (Not that they are mutually exclusive). In my case it has been genuine, but does it seem that way to the others? This is totally fascinating, right? I can’t imagine the same situation at a party — switching between my depressed friend in the back bedroom and my happily drunk friend on the lawn.

  5. Wow, this adds so much to the question of personas and social rituals. I have observed the same kind of pattern. In fact some personas will express guilt that they are taking up too much time. I have had that happen to me. You have given me a beautiful gift with this post.

  6. So Twitter, by dint of its 140 character maximum, gives us the freedom to wander into many rooms to be as we see fit, guided to a large degree by the emotional pitch of the other. What fascinates me are the various reasons that motivate us to tweet.
    A few months ago, having spent some time considering that very issue, I posted a short poem on Twitter:
    ‘What is Twitter but a stage
    to preen, to praise, to share … to rage?’
    At the time of the posting I felt a little uneasy about how it would be received. Would any of my tweeps take umbrage at such a remark? Indeed, would any of them see themselves as feather-spreaders (in actuality, there were no comments or RTs)?
    Now, having followed Marousia’s ‘Personas’ postings with so much interest and having read Gammaword’s extremely pertinent and enlightening comments, I realise there is (at least) one more category to add to the four I identified: the ‘needy.’
    As Gammaword points out, there are undoubtedly some people who use Twitter because they are emotionally needy. There is, however, a spectrum. I am aware of some people on Twitter who, having suffered some form of trauma or bereavement in the past, have channelled their emotions into their artistic work (usually consciously but not always) as a way of working through their emotional pain. If Twitter has become an extension of their creativity in some way, then this is surely an extremely healthy outlet.
    However, at the other end of the spectrum, there are undoubtedly people who use Twitter who, at the time of tweeting, are feeling emotionally unwell, ranging from low in mood to full blown clinical depression (and all stages in between). What do they expect to gain from their followers in 140 characters? I suspect, simply, human (sic) attention and, although Twitter therapy would be taking the concept of brief-focused therapy into the realms of the ridiculous, I imagine that many supportive tweeted responses do actually provide a degree of solace to some people.
    As for the issue of ‘persona –encapsulation’ (good term), it may or may not compromise the comforting tweeter (A) if the person who is struggling emotionally (B) has his or her eyes on a A’s timeline that includes a batch of jolly tweets. This, I believe, raises the issue of transference (and counter-transference) once more. If B does label A’s jolly tweets to others as him/her being unconcerned (which, I would suggest, is an unreasonable reaction), it can only be that their perception of A is being coloured by similar experiences from his/her (Bs) past (e.g. an emotionally detached parent or partner).
    Whilst this may seem to be a tad reductionsist and, perhaps, a little unfair, I don’t think it is. If anyone is feeling bad enough to seek support through Twitter, they are quite probably fragile and vulnerable enough to start to question the genuineness of A’s tweeted interventions. The vast majority of people who are depressed have low self-esteem and the slightest hint of what they see as neglect is likely to be interpreted as such – whether A’s supportive tweets were 100% genuine or not.
    But is this scenario so different from face-to-face relationships? I’m not sure that it is (in terms of how the ‘helper’ is responding and then opting out of the conversation). As a psychotherapist, I have stepped out of countless sessions with suicidal people and into general chit-chat with other team members … and then back into the therapy situation once more. This may sound rather harsh but it is a necessary survival skill to prevent the therapist from becoming overwhelmed and burnt out. It certainly does not mean that I was not being genuine (and sometimes very moved) during the session. We have to be aware of where the other person ends and where we begin (though during the session there are moments of togetherness that Buber would describe as I-Thou moments, where one becomes completely oblivious of all surrounding objects and melts into the other person’s emotional world).
    And don’t many of us have occasions, sometimes, where we leave behind a situation of domestic turmoil (argument with partner; kids poorly; financial pressures) to walk into a work situation with a joke and a smile(hiding behind a concocted persona or able to separate out one situation from another?)?
    This brings me back to the issue of who we really are. As far as Twitter goes, we are to others what we create in terms of our bio’s, our avatars, our blogs/websites and, of course, our tweets. But who do we think we are? Has our assumed Twitter persona set us off on a journey into the unknown? Do we know who we are becoming? Or, as Marousia suggests, are we involved in a process of hunting down our newly developing, alternative selves?

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