My Boring Fake Relationship

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I embark on a strange journey.

 

I’ve been “that guy” for a while. The one who has a network of high school friends from forays into music and drama. The one who seems to have as many Facebook friends in his many family members as he does in NYU acquaintances from the past year and a half. The one who constantly shares entertainment news articles and speaks about half the time in all-caps for EMPHASIS.

Okay, maybe that’s like three tropes, but they all apply to me. Basically I consider myself an active enough presence on Facebook to assume I’m in the peripheral view (through the news feed, mainly) of many of my Facebook friends, but I really had no way knowing how many beyond the people I regularly interacted with. My answer came with this blog prompt: here was my chance to drastically alter the content of my Facebook profile to try to examine who exactly engages with my presence on a regular or semi-regular basis. I especially thought of how Facebook would be the perfect environment for such an experiment: as a fast-paced and fairly far-reaching form of connectivity that acts as what Anthony Giddens calls a “reflexive project of the self,” I would be able to optimally alter my online performance of my identity through a channel that allows for thoughtful and calculated engagements with my imagined audience. 

I decided to change both my relationship status–a drastic shift, as I don’t think it’s said anything but “single” since 2009–and the language I chose to describe my newfound relationship (picture above).

In terms of my language, I assumed that the most differentiation I could exude in this new presentation of myself was to use effusive, emotional language and emoticons (such a taste statement I rarely, if ever, perform on the Internet). My first status, entered immediately after my relationship change, read “Feeling pretty lovestruck right about now… :)” It sort of made me gag as I wrote it, so I knew it would work perfectly. 

I posted these first changes before a late afternoon class; in the next 30 minutes alone, my phone constantly vibrated with notifications that looked something like this:

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Just a handful of my friends not knowing any better

(Please forgive the cut-rate censorship of last names. All screenshots are my own.)

I was rapidly engaging my imagined audience; the names above all represent college and/or high school friends who have commented or liked my content in the past.

This is when things started to get tricky. Sarcasm and doubt took over, and, perhaps most uncomfortably for me, my extended family became involved (see Aunts Jeannine and Stephanie, below):

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I underestimated the power of those individuals I share Ellison, Steinfeld, and Lampe‘s strong ties with–these are all people I interact with on more than one social media platform or in person on a very regular basis. The bottom line: my Facebook friends are too smart for this. They understand all too well what Erving Goffman identifies as the expressions I give (my conscious performance) and the expressions I give off (my unintentional performance) normally on Facebook to be entirely swept away by my audacious claim of a sudden relationship with someone not even on Facebook themselves. Above, I weakly try to counter an accusation from my friend Annie that I’ve been hacked by replying using a nickname and language only I would truly use, but she makes a good point by falling back on our connection of Haythornthwaite‘s media mutliplexity: were this an actual relationship of mine, precedence indeed dictates there would almost definitely be some vague Tumbling happening on my part; I only altered my behavior on Facebook. For the rest of my inquirers, I thought it best not to engage so as to avoid excessive lying or having to weave a complicated backstory for this relationship.

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Some of my more aggressive friends, after fruitless attempts to gossip over the phone with me, became desperate and threatened me. 

By the next morning, though, it appeared that no one else was engaging. By the end of that night, I used this audience feedback of a lack of participation and consequently updated my performance to increase the sense of “radical doubt” (as described by Weber and Mitchell in “Imaging, Keyboarding, and Posting Identities: Young People and New Media Technologies“) in my Facebook friends as to what the “true” narrative of my relationship was. The second status update:

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I repeat the treacly language (straight from The Music Man, a show I had performed in high school, for added realistic sense) and emoticon, and tensions rise with skepticism. My ever-charming and -supportive younger brother (see Nicholas, above) threatens to out my thinly constructed operation, which was not helped by the few text messages and wall posts regarding the subject that I conspicuously refused to answer.

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After this post, I decided it was time to call it quits. My context had sufficiently collapsed: I had engaged close friends, acquaintances, coworkers, aunts, cousins, and more in this charade, and I felt the support of my uncle–an individual who practices textbook media refusal as defined by Portwood-Stacer in “Media Refusal and Conspicuous Non-Consumption: The Performative and Political Dimensions of Facebook Abstention”–was a step too far out of the realm of Facebook to be comfortable for me anymore. 

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I posted this admit of my intentions earlier today, along with a link to the class blog for proof. As I had now come to expect, I received comments of sarcasm and dismissal from my uncle, cousin, and friend. This experiment overall demonstrated an outcome in support of boyd and Marwick‘s argument in “I Tweet Honestly, I Tweet Passionately” that wide-reaching posts serve to bring out the nightmare readers of my profile (in my case, the highly inquisitive members of my family) and leads me to really see how my content reaches a wide range (if not a large number) of different readers of my profile.

Through my experiment, I can conclude that many factions of my imagined audience (and a few of my previously unconsidered audience as well) have the potential to engage with my content. Facebook, at least in the way I choose to utilize it, is not an ideal tool to “manage collapsed audiences through performativity and play” (Papacharissi‘s “Without You, I’m Nothing“) as I sought to do through the attempted playfulness of my experiment. It seems even more clear after my examination that the most confusion and frustration over Facebook comes when I attempt to address all my audiences as one–it will remain in my best interests as a SNS user to cater certain posts to certain readers.

One thing is certain: due to the response of my audience, I must apologize in advance to whomever may be implicit in any real “Facebook official” relationship with me in the future.

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The final aggregate of responses to my “relationship,” ranging from happiness to shocked excitement to incredulity to flippant accusal of narcissism (once again, thanks Nicholas).

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2 comments

  1. Really funny post! I particularly liked the emphasis link.
    Your friends are smart! I was expecting you to find (like the girl in class from a few weeks ago) that a lot of weak ties you never talk to commented and were super happy for you, despite not keeping in contact and (in this case) not even knowing who you were in a relationship with. Instead, you had an audience of strong ties held captive with every status. I think it’s interesting that many immediately called and texted you, which shows that they really are very strong ties, versus facebook messaging. And your friend Annie knows you super well because she pointed out she would have heard about or at least seen hints of the new relationship on your other SNSs which you use more frequently, particularly tumblr.
    I wonder what the response would be like had you chosen a different platform, say tumblr, where friends and strangers alike are followers. Would those who have followed you for a while comment, even though you have never met in person, because they are genuinely happy for you?

  2. Really enjoyed reading this post. Interesting to see how quickly some of your friends caught on–probably because of the over-dramatized performance that you wouldn’t have done otherwise, it wasn’t authentic enough? What would have happened if you had only changed your relationship statuses and didn’t put up those other status updates with it–how do you think the responses would have changed?

    Marwick and Boyd say that our “imagined audience is often the mirror-image of the user.” Do you think you were writing with yourself in mind when you drafted those status updates? Or was it so far removed from what you would actually say in that situation where it becomes unbelievable. I found it interesting that you come from a theatre background, and your Facebook friends in high school would know this/be a part of this community. To what extent do you think this affected your performance?

    Your post was executed really well, I like the fact that you included many screenshots of peoples reactions to the statuses, and also how you related many readings into the post. I was wondering–if you had controlled your audience with the affordances offered by Facebook, maybe not have the status viewable by your extremely close friends or family–how the reactions would differ.

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