Social networks remove masks

It is not uncommon for an individual of collegiate age to question his or her identity whilst meandering along the road of life.

Why, faced with the pressure to constantly toggle our appearances to meet the presence of peers, instructors, employers, co-workers and romantic interests, it would be foolish to not ask, “Who am I?” now and then.

One day I may be found in a boardroom behind horned-rimmed glasses with a starched collar and silk tie; the next I may instead be spotted in a brown-rimmed beanie and jeans with acoustic guitar in hand.

Today I don a familiar persona, that of a dreary-eyed but agreeably presentable and clean-cut undergraduate business student tending to my daily academic chores.

You may see me as I diligently trudge between lectures with a bloated assemblage of internal database management and accounting textbooks, office supplies, spiral-bound notebooks and a collection of short stories by Clark Ashton Smith fastened securely to my back. And if by chance you do, I invite you to stop and ask me how my weekend was.

Smiling, I may offer a simple, “Meh, not bad,” before politely returning the question in preparation for an equally vague response.

We are creatures of privacy, of self-observing insecurity, guised under the veil of our present visage with no loyalties to our past actions outside the awareness of our audience.

However, what information could be gleaned about who I am by simply adding me as a friend on Facebook and pulling up my profile?

Through my photos you could discover that I in fact spent this Saturday garbed in swashbuckler attire, dancing the night away in celebration of Purim, a holiday that is perhaps adequately described as a PG-rated Jewish rendition of Mardi Gras.

Searching further you could find pictures of my winter snowboarding trip to Flagstaff, of political events attended, of girlfriends loved and lost. Years of my life, a history of who I am and who I was, all accessible with the click of a mouse.

According to a new study on college students by a team of American and German researchers to be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, users of online social networks such as Facebook typically present accurate versions of their personalities in their profiles rather than their idealized selves, despite attempts to cleanse their pages of images of red cups and shot glasses.

Social networking sites present the opportunity for people to view themselves and the people on their friends list in their raw, unadulterated form. While this may sometimes come to the detriment of those who are careless — 45 percent of employers check Facebook before hiring, according to a survey conducted by CareerBuilder.com — this new medium of social engagement has proven effective in providing individuals admittance to more intimate knowledge about their friends, loved ones and themselves.

Consider it like a diary … that is open for the world to see.

Post accordingly.

Hal treasures the many masks he has collected over the years. Share yours at hscohen@asu.edu


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