I consider myself lucky in that I have been in many online communities in my lifetime. If you followed my Emerging Technologies blog last year, then some of this reflection might be already treaded ground. I spent many of my teen years hopping between many new and strange online communities, usually where fanfiction was the uniting factor.
I was comfortable to lurk on the outskirts, reading other people’s banter, trying to get a feel for who my community was, and what behaviour was acceptable. However, much like I do in ‘the real world’, my interactions were at their highest when I felt I had something to contribute, or had a question I wanted to ask. My passion for a tiny, shred of a subject could sometimes take me into ‘old man yells at cloud’ territory. And if I felt confident that I knew the answer to someone else’s question, you can be sure that I would tell you all about it in way too many words.
When I recognise this almost brutish assurance in myself, I’m a little put off by it to be honest. I often find it easier to be this person when I consider myself amongst strangers. It’s not that I feel safe in anonymity. It’s that if my audience seem to be the anonymous ones, then really I don’t care what they think of me. They’re nobody, because that’s who they choose to be. When it’s people that I know in ‘the real world’, I tend to be a bit more cautious.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that this is who I know myself to be. And frankly I don’t go into communities striving to be anything other than myself. But some people might find that sentiment a bit hollow. What does that even mean, being myself? Which version of myself? The snide funnygirl with a wit that maintains a Sahara level of moistness? The quiet wide eyed student who will hear anything at least once? Maybe one day I’ll succeed in crafting the perfect mask that melds elements of the two personas. I think that’d be someone fun to have at dinner parties.
I’ve certainly been aware of Twitter for a number of years. We’re not strangers. I dabble in it from time to time. However I often find my attention in it wanes. I believe that my personal resistance to Twitter has always been because of the character limit. I don’t like the inflexibility and cookie-cutter nature of it. Succinctness breeds a level of predictability. It’s hard for me to make a joke in 140 characters. Where does the punchline go? (#usuallyinahashtagthatseemsuncomfortablylongifyouknowwhatImeansaynomoresaynomorenoreallystopsayingmore)
When I do use it though, we tend to get along for a little while. Live Tweeting is one of my favourite things to do whenever Eurovision comes around. But having gone to a lot of effort to set up my Twitter profile as a ‘professional only space’, I don’t feel comfortable making those sorts of posts using my @rebeccasrandall handle. Political posts are out for me too. I could never just say it in 140 characters anyway when it comes to my political views, and wouldn’t dare to try. Again, different masks for different occasions.
Sometimes I get into a bit of a Marilyn headspace when I think about the me that I put forth to the world. If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at my best, that old chestnut. But then I remember that some people out there aren’t as forgiving as I would like them to be. And that a certain level of cordiality doesn’t go astray. But then again, I’ve always believed that cordiality is the glue that keeps communities together.