Who am I? Where am I? – Is social media confusing?

I have been away from the blog for a while and feel I need to earn my seat with some existential offerings. Everything is changing. Everything. It makes me wonder. (And continued thanks to Julian Stodd for provoking these thoughts).  So…

Not so long ago, well not too long ago, my digital identity resided in a word document. A document I had pored over, crafted, recrafted and saved carefully on a hard disc (latterly on a USB drive). When the time arrived, I would post this to people (in a postbox) in the hope that it would illuminate my potential and highlight the singular trajectory of my career (latterly it would go via email). This document was, still is, my CV. This is where my professional history and experience resided. It was me in a succinct and authentic nutshell. I still have a version of this nutshell stashed away, as we all do.

A CV now has limited application and is reserved only to tell a somewhat narrow and formal version of my professional self.  That self is now merging with my other selves as work patterns and relationships change, prodding even harder at the value of a single nutshell in which to carry all of me. This story is also only told at certain formal moments – job applications in the main. Even then it requires other narrators to validate it, referees and the currency of the qualifications it describes. There is not enough context to contain very much meaning. It is only one heftily authored perspective. A CV seems now like a museum piece, curated and displayed for inspection in a formal context alone. It has very limited application in the world I now inhabit.

I suppose, in addition to the CV, I have also left an imprint on various HR, Training and Finance systems of my employers over the years.  I don’t know what to do with these though and never really have. They are not created for me and are of little use.

As so many do, I now live out the story of my experience in many places, each with their own context, community and utility. In no particular order I have:

  • A Facebook profile
  • A Facebook page
  • A Twitter account
  • A LinkedIn profile
  • A blog (and a WordPress account to go with it)
  • A Tumblr (and a Disqus account to accompany it)
  • A Pinterest account
  • A Goolge+ profile
  • More than one ‘corporate social network’ account
  • An internal blog
  • A Sharepoint profile (probably)
  • A Periscope presence (profile maybe?)
  • An Instagram account
  • A Skype account (does that count?)
  • A WhatsApp account
  • Facebook messenger account
  • A profile on Medium
  • A YouTube account or channel
  • A FutureLearn profile/account

[I haven’t listed email accounts. They seem like ways of communicating for me rather than where I reside. There is not an identity in an email account itself. But that also seems like a false distinction. Communication is pretty much what all this is about after all. Should they be on the list too? If so, there are a few of those too.]

I could, arguably, strike a few from the list on the basis that they are ‘personal’ and not worky. That is less conclusive now though. My Facebook profile is private in the main but many contacts in there are through work or are existing colleagues and it is used for work stuff too now as a result. I think this has added utility to my use of the service whilst muddying that distinction. They should remain then.

Now. I am comfortable with all of these tools (if expert with none of them). Some are barely used, admittedly. Some have seriously lapsed. Some are overused. I am also, however, thoroughly bewildered now that I have listed them and am peering at them in this form. I can understand why many folks pine for the limited certainties of only a CV and a private email account. Where am I amongst all this? Who am I amongst all this? What do people make of me? How will they find me? And then…who are they? Etc. Etc.

Whilst this can seem complicated and confusing (and it is complicated and confusing) I don’t feel any crisis or real problem at present. Many people have much longer lists and are perfectly happy with them as well. I am in the company of literally billions of people figuring out how, why and when to use these tools. I am learning how they work for me and how they are limited. I am learning what other people do with them and how to respond when I do and don’t like what they do and when they do and don’t like what I do.

In the grand scheme of social and cultural history, these tools have been around for a very short time. It is very hard to tell how they will evolve and which will expire. Even harder to discern what else will come along. I’m not sure we even know well what we will want to do with them. It is quite conceivable that we will look back at a 140 character limit on communication as quaint and bizarre. It seems to be creaking already. I suspect (and hope) that protocols will emerge to help us manage the spasms of abuse that infect much social media activity. I also suspect that we will settle on patterns of use that we find most useful for ourselves. Constant, restless exploration is quite tiring and not always productive. We will start to figure out where and who we are to greater satisfaction.

Some of our current expectations will endure, however. They will continue to be the baseline of expectations that successful products and uses of those products need to meet. We want to find people and ideas that resonate with us (on our terms), we want clear signals of who those people are and what they are about. We increasingly want authenticity from those signals and in the interactions we have – spam is just nasty and will always be nasty. We want to find people who know stuff we are interested in and can help us do things we value doing. We also want to be found for those reasons. We want pieces of that knowledge to be available and usable. We want to share and be shared (sometimes). We want an audience for our ideas and our work – bearing in mind that others want this to be meaningful as well. (I sincerely hope that the current narcissism will reduce. I hope. A lot). We want to know what’s new from people who’s judgement we value. We want shortcuts straight to the source and clear signals that the source is genuine.

We want all of this to be ours. Actually we want it, in the main, to be mine. We want personal relevance and resonance. The good products all feel like mine. Like they are personal to me. (Look out for those T’s and C’s tough – they are not ours in all ways).

If we want all this from our own use, we need to make sure that our contributions are supportive of these desires. We need to look after how we present ourselves – we need to tend to our landscape as we make it. We need our offers to these spaces to be relevant and resonant. Or, at least, make the sincere attempt that they are. Yes, cat gifs will abound and pictures of our dinners at sunset too. That’s OK and is authentic in a way. It is also thin and disposable and probably valued as such. I believe that we get what we give and that our new social worlds work this way too. The enduring value we find is richer than that and rarer too.

So, whilst a sense of confusion is never far away in this landscape, there is a real opportunity to explore where and who we are. Expecting one fixed answer in a singular context is unwise. This is not a CV landscape. One document will not nearly suffice. It is fluid and shifts as we all shift it. None of us want to believe we are only one person anyway.

As a modest case in point. At the start of this post, I was pretty sure of the shape of my thoughts on this topic. Now I am less sure. What do you think?

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