I recently learned about the term "context collapse". From Wikipedia:
Context collapse "generally occurs when a surfeit of different audiences occupy the same space, and a piece of information intended for one audience finds its way to another"
This article led me to this topic: "What's 'Context Collapse'? Understanding it Can Mean a More Fulfilling Online Life", which describes how context collapse affects how people interact online, mostly through social media. Quoting:
Here's how context collapse plays out online. When you have Facebook friends numbering in the thousands, your audience becomes a little difficult to speak to all at once.
In an article for sapiens.org, Sophia Goodman described it as “trying to comfortably chat with your mother, bar buddy, work colleague, and ex-boyfriend at the same time.”
In a place where parents, colleagues, bosses and friends all congregate, you can find it difficult to be yourself. Or, rather, to decide which self to be.
While I can understand why some people might have trouble with this phenomenon (for example, teenagers who present a different "self" to parents/relatives vs friends, or people who have a lot of insecurities or anxieties), I find it a bit difficult to relate to for some reasons:
- I consider my online persona to be generally an "authentic" representation of myself online, and I generally don't feel the need to switch contexts depending on the audience. That is to say, I don't feel like I have multiple "selves" that I can choose to be.
- I've been writing on the internet via this blogging thing longer than most people, way before the whole explosion of social media so I have a good sense of what I can and can't write about in public. Even at work before there was social media, I had the habit of setting a status message on our instant messaging system, mostly sharing quotes and trivia and shitposts and such, early practice for Twitter I guess.
- Probably because of (2), by the time the social media explosion came about, I was already an adult who was generally comfortable in his own skin, and whatever insecurities or anxieties I did have, they were mostly worries about the future that I didn't mind writing about. I learned about being vulnerable in public and shrugging it off early on.
This is probably also why I tend to use my real name online and avoid having multiple accounts ("alts") as I don't see the need.
The article also says:
People are also avoiding context collapse by turning to more ephemeral mediums, like Instagram stories and Snapchat. These posts don’t stick around, so you can share without as much worry about the consequences.
Given that, I suppose it's also no surprise that I dislike ephemeral forms of social media
I suppose it can be different especially for those people who had to grow up being online during their formative years, as it can be challenging being an insecure teenager in public. Platforms like Facebook actually provide tools to help with context-switching though, since you can fine tune the privacy settings of each post so that only specific audiences can see it. I suspect very few users actually use those features though.
From the article again:
If you do stick around, don’t expect to ever find that “authentic” online version of yourself.
“There really isn’t such a thing,” Marwick said. “It’s really always a performance."
Even assuming this is true online, it's the same thing as it is in real life. Even if it's a performance, I consider my online persona "authentic", in the sense that it's basically the same performance in real life.
Somewhat related: around the time people started talking more about politics etc on social media, I noticed it becoming more common that people with larger followings would post something, and some of their followers have complaints like "I follow you for your [niche topic] insights, you should stop posting about [politics/religion/thing I don't like or have no interest in]."
This is some kind of reverse context collapse where you only view certain people through a particular context, when in fact they are real, complex human beings with a variety of interests. I like it when the people I follow (mostly on Twitter/Masto) are able to post about different kinds of things and don't just stick to a single topic as if they were a "brand"; it somehow feels more real, and at the same time, helps diversify my world view. For the same reason, I also prefer following/reading personal blogs and dislike blogs that are just technical how-tos and such.
The internet might be a better place if we could all feel comfortable being ourselves online. Perhaps that starts with all of us being kinder to other internet strangers by default.