Peacocking

What possesses people to make their private life public?  Why do we post some of our most personal moments on social media sites for all the world to see? Who are we writing for anyway?

I’m currently in an early American autobiography class, so that could be why these questions seem at the forefront of my mind.  But, they still seem like relevant questions.  I was recently reading a blog post (from here) about the concept of the blog as a sort of reaching out for humanity.  A check on the pulse of society–Are you out there world, it’s me, Amanda?

I thought this image of the blog as a 3 a.m. conversation was particularly accurate for my own goals as a blogger:

Blogging is like those conversations we have in the wee hours of the morning, when the party is over and all have left except for those few lingering souls who find themselves opening up to each other in ways they could never do when meeting on the street or over dinner. Those 3 AM conversations, you know.

I know why I started this whole thing and who I was hoping would read it.  With a new life, I knew that I would also need to make new circles…you know…friendship circles.  I’m not the most social, which is why I think some people were surprised by my openness in many of these posts.  I have, however, always been an avid journal writer.  On a previous blog, which acted as a digital portfolio for my grad-school application process, I commented on my history with journaling (after being inspired by this blog entry).  This is what I wrote:

It reminded of how cathartic journal writing is, and why I try to pass that skill on to my students. It’s more than just memorabilia–it’s a place where we can view the witness voice of our younger selves and interpret it. A great test of the power of reflection and how it helps us grow. It’s funny, as the school year winds down, I have my students reflect on how they have grown as readers and writers in the past year. I think it’s time for me to take a step back and reflect on my own process as a reader and writer…time to make goals for next year.

I don’t have students anymore, so I have to find another outlet for my reflective tendencies, hence “A Tree Grows in the Bayou.”  Despite how anti-social someone thinks they are, human beings are social animals, and we crave those moments of touching.  Whether physical, mental, or spiritual, we all need to reach out and feel like there is someone else there, someone listening, and therefore, hoping that someone cares.

So why digital media? What possesses people to post personal business on facebook or twitter…or some other obscure social media site that I’m not hip enough to know about yet?

Well, for one, it’s “safer” than putting yourself out there in person.  There is a screen here–literally and metaphorically–with obvious pros and cons (ever heard of trolling?).  However, I can’t deny that feeling of freedom I have to hit publish on information here that I might never talk about in person, which probably has to do with my own fears of others’ judgement combined with a natural tendency to listen, or say something sarcastic, rather than talk about myself.

I love this image of Rowlandson with a gun aimed at the natives. She didn’t have a gun, but publishers created a public image of her fighting against captivity–talk about peacocking.

Another hypothesis is the Peacock theory where people go to great lengths to create some alternate persona, a “model self,” which will somehow be more appealing to their audience.  That by showcasing their best talents and biggest accomplishments (or for some, the biggest disasters or most difficult conflicts) they will find vindication in how many comments or “likes” they achieve.  This is not new to social media.  The Puritans were doing it back in the 17th and 18th centuries.  Mary Rowlandson’s narrative of her capture by the Narragansett tribe was published as a “how to” book of Puritan conduct in the face of affliction.  Rowlandson meticulously crafted the self she portrayed in her narrative as it was one of the ways she would be accepted back into her community and her husband’s bed.

How is this different from what many bloggers do today?  We write in a certain way, present certain scenarios that create a public self which is oftentimes much different from who we are privately.  This performativity is inherent in anything that we make public from what we wear to what we tweet.

On the other hand, perhaps it satisfies a different human need: progress. When I sit down and type up a post for this blog, it feels incredibly satisfying to hit “publish.”  Whether or not anybody actually reads it, it is a thrill just knowing that it is public to the world.  The satisfaction also comes from feeling like I’ve accomplished something, when actually I really haven’t actively done anything.  Of course, at times like these, I revert to the words of Hemingway to make sense of this chaos.  In a letter to Fitzgerald, Hemingway writes:

Well anyway were going into town tomorrow early in the morning. Write me at the Hotel Quintana, Pamplona, Spain.

Or dont you like to write letters. I do because it’s such a swell way to keep from working and yet feel you’ve done something.

For me, blogging is an act of touching, and an act of doing something.  It is a way to stay in touch with family and friends back home.  That idiom of metaphorical touching is incredibly apropos here, but this blog is also a documentary of this moment of my life.  While there are elements of the peacock theory, I like to think that I am honest and open in these posts, and, that when I reach out, you are there…even if you’re just my mom hitting the “like” button:-)

It's all about the creation of self--who are we really?

It’s all about the creation of self–who are we really?

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