A Portrait of The Poster


I worked with a guy who had this as his desktop image. This was in the days before Facebook was such a big deal; certainly, long before it became so meme-heavy. The image had novelty, and in fact I was so tickled by it that I ran to the internet, found it, and saved it for my own future amusement. (To be honest, I still can’t see lettuce without giggling a little inside.)

In a discussion about Facebook today someone posited that the things people post – even silly memes – “reveal much about those who post. It could be a way to revealing a bit of the emotional struggles that they are going through (under stress, need to laugh, or a need to share with others).” And as ridiculous as it sounds, that honestly had not occurred to me in that specific way. At least not in the context of silly pictures of cats (to pick just one scapegoat).

The use of such an image – and the ones that succeeded it from the same site – was completely in character for my coworker. He was famously random, off-beat, even eccentric, but his randomness had a predictable hilarity to it that was regarded with indulgent fondness. I have no doubt that if he is active on Facebook, his page continues to make his friends tilt their heads to the side and say, “That’s really odd.” And then laugh.

I have several intelligent, well-educated friends who frequently post intriguing articles it is impossible not to read – even when they’re on subjects I wouldn’t have said I was interested in. I have a number of witty or “punny” friends, and friends who are always having small adventures, whose statuses are not only enjoyable but immensely repeatable. I have friends with definite interests (writing, gardening, travel and photography, off the top of my head) and friends with unique voices. I have Facebook-friends who are honest about their lives in large and deep ways that make me determined to have them as real-life friends. There is even one person who shows up in my feed whose statuses are confined to such cheering things as “I’m tired” or “bad day” or “so bored”.

And I would say that all of these things are true to who these people are in person.

Yes: what we say and do says a lot about who we are, and that’s true whether we’re in person or online. Whether we are kind or dismissive, joyful or negative, goofy or serious, that comes out in what we share. No, nobody does this perfectly. I certainly don’t. Nor is there anything wrong with presenting different facets of ourselves at different times. There is not even anything wrong with posting silly memes (after all, many of them are clever and most are funny enough to elicit an involuntary smile, even from me!).

The same person who made the comment about posts revealing the poster added something very wise:

Social Media can be a lot like attending a party. It is not always easy to control what the others are bringing to the party. You can only choose to respond to those conversations that appeal to you.

My husband is fond of saying that Facebook’s problem is that it does what nobody would ever dream of doing in person, because it is an obvious recipe for disaster: collecting everybody you know in one place and having an open conversation that any and all of those people can participate in. In such a situation, there is absolutely a need for people to take the above advice, to tune in or out as they desire.

And yet… in face-to-face conversation, most of us recognize certain responsibilities. You have the responsibility not to be deliberately offensive. To avoid (at least in certain contexts) controversial subjects. Not to monopolize the conversation with a topic your hearer has no interest in.

Do we have these same responsibilities online? I believe that we do. With hundreds of potential hearers, no, it is not possible that everything you say will be interesting to everyone. But most of what you say should have value or meaning – preferably a variety of types of value. You should post at intervals that allow others’ newsfeed not to be dominated by you.

Of course people can block you if they don’t like what you have to say. Just as someone you’re talking to at a cocktail party can zone out or ignore you. But it’s not a pleasant position to be in – and why would you force someone to block you if you could possibly help it?

And yet… even if you think that online all the responsibility rests on the hearer, there is no getting around the fact that whether they react or not, people will evaluate you based on what you share.

I don’t think I know too many people who are accurately represented by pictures with silly captions. So the question is: are you risking being known as the person whose main contribution to the conversation is silly pictures and ecard wine jokes? And is that the impression you want to give?

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