Project Thoughts and Intersections

I have a few project ideas floating around, so I’ll do my best to explain them all and make some connections. Here we go…

First, I’m interested in how people portray themselves online. We have the ability to be selective in which photos of ourselves can appear on our Facebook walls, we add emoticons to our conversations, and we can comment on articles anonymously. The internet gives us the ability to assume new, different identities. I regularly chat with one of my good friends through Google Chat. When we’re communicating through this medium, he frequently jokes around, inserts many “lols,” “jks” and “:-).” In person, however, he’s more reserved and thoughtful. Why does he feel the need to act differently online? Is this what he’s like when he’s most comfortable and conversing in his home? I wonder if his online persona is what he truly wants to be but withholds that side of him in public. I’m interested in further exploring these questions.

Another idea: People love saying they’re busy, especially Michigan students. At times I feel that people get great joy from telling other people that they’re busy. Why? Does this phrase make a person feel better about himself or herself? Or are they actually busy and like to be busy? Some of the people that say they’re busy are the same folks I see out and about partying, browsing the internet, and socializing with friends. I don’t want to call them liars, but I will say that I feel they’re misrepresenting the reality. I hope to develop these thoughts, research these ideas, and write about it.

Finally, one of my friends likes to say, “It’s only awkward if you make it awkward.” I’ve since adapted and adopted his phrase as one of my own: “awkwardness is a choice.” I cringe when I’m in a somewhat uncomfortable situation and someone says, “Well, this is awkward.” YOU JUST MADE IT EVEN WORSE!! I would love to write about the history of the feeling of awkwardness. I don’t remember feeling “awkward” as a little kid. What makes people feel awkward? Are certain people more likely to feel awkward? Why does it feel like the worst thing in the world when we know it’s really not?

I see a connection between my second and third ideas; they both ask questions about what people say aloud and how that compares and contrasts to how they truly feel. I think they also both touch on common feelings among college-aged students: we’re busy and awkward. I’d be interested to see how these two concepts interact, too. Do people say they’re “busy” to an acquaintance so they don’t have to feel “awkward” at a lunch date the person invited him or her to? Not gonna lie–I’ve done that once or twice.

I’m still fascinated with online profiles and identities; I’d love to spend time delving into the social science research and existing literature about that topic. As I mentioned in class, I’m an information junkie. I can spend hours and hours watching videos, reading articles, and looking at photos on Reddit. I’m not sure why I do this. It’s not like I’m becoming smarter or more informed. I’m not even talking about everything I’m reading with friends or taking in this information to be a better conversationalist. I do it simply for myself. But why!? It’s such a waste of time. I doubt I would be doing this kind of reading and information gathering if I lived in the pre-Internet ages. I can privately consume this information in the comfort of my own home. I still want to answer this question: why do I do this? I have far better things to do. Is this my online identity? I can kind of see a connection between these two areas.

Well, those are my thoughts. I’d love to hear what you have to say. Any comments, suggestions, and questions will be much appreciated. Thanks!

2 thoughts to “Project Thoughts and Intersections”

  1. I’ve noticed this set of phenomena, too. I have a theory that what’s at the heart of all these behaviors is what I call social compensation. To take your G-Chat example, have you ever tried to be sarcastic while typing and the person thinks you’re being serious? That’s one reason for writing lol and smilies all the time – since you know the other person can’t take verbal, facial or spatial cues you have to have some type of cue that’s recognizable in order to compensate. Actually, if you look into the history of the emoticon it’s pretty interesting, and it goes back to at least the early 1900s!

    I think a different sort of social compensation is going on with the “I’m so busy!” example. In the same way that people feel obligated to respond “Good” to “How are you?”, we as students feel like we have to take part in the “busy culture”. And the weird part is, I think we honestly believe our answer.

    As for your last idea, I think that operates as filler, just the way that an lol or 🙂 can work in G-Chat. Only it’s in real time, so no one would be very comfortable with you laughing like a loon or smiling at an awkward pause in the conversation. Opposite to its function in G-Chat, these fillers would probably cause offense. But I agree – stating that something is awkward always makes it worse.

    Hope these ideas helped – as you can see I, too, find how people act in certain situations to be fascinating.

  2. Hey Mark! These questions sound like they might be a lot of fun to work on and think through! I’m actually seeing kind of a connection between all three ideas, in that they all on some level raise questions about the relationship between perception/performance and reality. The connection is especially strong between your first two ideas, because we have people not necessarily lying, but being somewhat disingenuous (whether they mean to be or not).

    To some extent, I think this also stretches into your ideas about awkwardness. The phrase “it’s only awkward if you make it awkward” can mean “it’s only awkward if we acknowledge something is awkward” or I think it can also often be interpreted as “it’s only awkward if you let it make you feel awkward.” However, I think both ways to interpret the phrase again lend themselves to the connection between how someone wants to be perceived and perceive something, and how the thing in question actually is.

    Hope this helps!

    Josh

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