Does the Internet Reveal the True You?

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What’s the best way of getting to know someone—their blog and social media presence, or in person?
 
Where do you most reveal your true self—in person, or online?
 
I’m guessing most people would say unhesitatingly, ‘in person.’ But before you confidently plump for that option, consider Jane Austen. 
 
In Pride and Prejudice, Darcy and Elizabeth engage in snatched and confused conversations, resulting in a clumsy proposal of marriage which Elizabeth angrily refuses, believing Darcy to be an unfeeling villain. 
 
It’s only when they write letters to each other that their true selves are revealed. Through Darcy telling his story honestly, without interruption, in a letter to Elizabeth, she realises that she had completely misjudged him. 
 
There are a thousand reasons why we don’t reveal our true selves in person: most conversations revolve around small talk and are snatched in the middle of the busyness of life. Rarely do we get a chance to tell our full story to another human being without interruption. That’s part of why counsellors deserve their money—they provide a service that we don’t get anywhere else. 
 
In the blogosphere we get a chance to step inside people’s stories and hear their passions and dreams. My husband helps people discern whether or not they are called to the ministry, and one of the things he asks people to do is examine carefully their Twitter and Facebook timeline to see what it reveals about them. Anyone who updates their status regularly and honestly will discover that they reveal—perhaps unconsciously—a lot about themselves. There’s a lot of talk about how Facebook and Instagram photos hide reality and give it a positive gloss, and this is true—but there are cracks of truth which show up in social media and blogs. 
 
There are some unpleasant things that creep out online that don’t appear in ‘real life’: loneliness and self-pity can find its way onto Facebook posts; passive-aggressive anger (we all know the ‘I can’t believe someone would do that! YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE’ posts); an obsession with appearance or alcohol, the complete absence of a mention of people or issues supposedly close to our hearts. You can curate your online presence to present a persona, but things still leak out, despite our best efforts. 
 
There are also more positive things that are revealed online: when else do we get to see someone’s creativity, or love of colour, or passion to make the world a better place? When, after our teenage years, do we get to know what music someone else is into? Where else do we get to see an unending supply of cat videos? 
 
Much about the Internet world is artificial, but it’s also possible that our art and stories reveal a true portrait of ourselves. Online, we may not know the whole picture, just as is the case with most friendships in ‘real life.’ But a picture doesn’t have to be complete in order to be true and authentic.
 
We live in a workaholic, fragmented, frantically-paced society—and that doesn’t make for good conversation. Politics, religion, tragedy, grief, dreams and hopes—these are things we don’t tend to talk about much in polite society and in our daily interactions, but they leak out onto social media and in blogs.
 
People who have met me in real life say I’m more smiley and funny than they would imagine from my blog. (That probably comes with the territory when you write a blog on the spirituality of suffering – it’s not naturally ‘LOL’ material. Plus, the Internet does Not Know How To Take A Joke). Those who meet me in the everyday may marvel at my ability to make small talk without referring to politics or deep emotions. 
 
It’s natural to want to share our most intimate stories and discoveries with others—we are created to be creative. When God created the world, He wanted to share that with humans; so our inclination to share our creativity with others is a God-given trait.  
 
In everyday interactions, people tell me I am more laid-back and humorous than my blog posts, less ‘intense.’ But those who know me really well also say I am deep and compassionate, and can attest to the fact that I have magic intense eyes that leave people confessing their innermost fears and griefs to me—and those words find a safe place to land. Funnily enough, these confessional interactions also happen in my blog comments—perhaps because honesty and vulnerability breeds honesty and vulnerability. 
 
My close friends and family know me the best and see several different sides to me. But outside of that close circle, who sees the most authentic version of myself—blog readers, or people in ‘real life?’ I’m not sure of the answer. 
 
So if you blog, this is my question to you—where do you most reveal your true self: online or off
 
And if you don’t blog or spend much time on social media—well, then the chances are that you won’t be reading this post. But if by some miracle you are—where do you reveal yourself most truly? Who are the people you tell your stories to, share your passions with, swap music recommendations with? Where are the safe places for your words to land? 
Tanya Marlow
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Tanya Marlow

Writer at Thorns and Gold
Tanya Marlow was in Christian ministry for a decade and a lecturer in Biblical Theology. Then she got sick, and became a writer. She loves writing honestly about finding God in hard places at tanyamarlow.com. She also loves belting out songs without knowing the words. She is the author of Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty, using the biblical book of Ruth as a path back from disappointment, which you can download for FREE here.
Tanya Marlow
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  • Nicole Walters

    Great thoughts, Tanya (and as a huge Austen fan I just love the illustration from my favorite novel!) I absolutely reveal my true self more in writing. I always have. When I have an intense conversation or confrontation to have, I write it down. When I was young this meant passing notes to friends (or gasp, to boys I could never talk to in person). Today in the online world it means revealing deep things of myself like anxiety or spiritual struggles. I would never have those conversations with perfect strangers that I just meet on the street. Yet somehow there is a freedom and safety in putting those words down on paper or on the screen. And that is when people who don’t even know you can find solace in knowing they are not alone in feeling that way. Someone else has been there. I am working on deeper interactions in real life. I know i need the ability to speak the truth in love and not just run away from the hard topics in person. Here’s hoping we can all be real ALL the time!

    • Hi, lovely Nicole! Great to see your face on here! Thanks so much for these thoughts. I’m impressed that you prepare for a tricky conversation by writing it down – I think that’s really smart. And this: ” I would never have those conversations with perfect strangers that I just meet on the street. Yet somehow there is a freedom and safety in putting those words down on paper or on the screen. ” – yes. That’s the weird paradox of the internet, isn’t it? I love this strange new world we find ourselves in.

      Thanks so much for commenting – it’s nice to get to know you a bit more.

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  • Rebecka

    This is interesting and I’ve been thinking a lot about these things in the last couple of days!
    I don’t blog, I don’t update my Facebook very often or tweet that much. Mainly because forming three of four sentences that makes sense and are grammatically correct takes too much energy. (Gosh, I miss being able to write, stupid brain fog!) But also because I’m afraid of posting updates that make me seem like I feel sorry for myself and because I just don’t think anyone cares about my day to day life. Perhaps that’s why I feel like I’m not very good at making friends online? It might be easier if I opened up more.

    If you were to look at what I do post (and my replies to other people’s posts) I think you’d learn that I love nature, I genuinely care about others and I can’t resist making stupid jokes, even if no one thinks they’re funny. But my passions and my stories? Sometimes I’ll share them in comments like this, or on your blog (there really is something magical about that place or about you) but mostly I just keep them bottled up. (I’m crying again. Every time I try to comment on something you’ve written I start crying. It’s like therapy!)

    • Tammy Perlmutter

      Did you read Heather Caliri’s post from last week about being afraid of Twitter? It addressed this very thing, and she admits to fearing that no one is interested in what she has to say. I can totally understand why you would feel this way, I’m sure most of us at some time or another, when we are at our most vulnerable or at our lowest points, can attest to this. I think finding YOUR community is key to finding a safe place to be yourself and find people who ARE interested in your day-to-day thoughts, feelings, and experiences. From what you are saying, I assume you struggle with chronic illness?

      • Rebecka

        Yes, I did read that post, it was great!
        I think you’re right, in everything you’re saying and yes, I do struggle with chronic illness which has probably made me extra vulnerable and insecure. Thank you so much for your reply. (It made me cry some more.)

    • Oh, lovely Rebecka – your comment made me cry, too. Perhaps this: ” I’m afraid of posting updates that make me seem like I feel sorry for myself and because I just don’t think anyone cares about my day to day life.” – YES. I get this. I feel a little vulnerable even admitting to this – the fact that I am often consciously super-positive on Facebook because I am afraid that if I say when I am sad, that people will view me as ‘negative’ and want to cut me out of their life (as so many online articles seem to say).

      It made me cry when you said you mostly keep your passions, stories and emotions bottled up. I think that’s because I see a glimpse of a portrait of you in your comments, and what I see is beautiful. I see you are fiercely intelligent, that you have a curiosity about life and how it works, that you have an uncanny empathy and a well-developed self-awareness. I see that you love words and stories, and people. I like your jokes and find them hilarious 🙂 You’re so good at English that I completely forget it’s not your first language. And I liked hearing about the fact that you could have breakfast in the morning outside. I keep wanting to imagine you enjoying breakfast outside. Every time you share a small detail of your life, I am interested. I am interested in the whole: good and bad. And ugly. And hilarious.

      So if you ever do feel you want to share more of yourself on Facebook, please know I will be reading, and I am interested. You are an amazing person. I’m praying that you know that today.

      • Rebecka

        Yes, that’s exactly what I do too! Perhaps when you’re so cut off from “the real world” the thought of people unfriending or unfollowing you becomes extra painful?

        Wow, thank you, thank you, thank you for those incredibly lovely and kind words! I don’t know what to say. (Yes. they made me cry again, ha!) Thank you so much! I feel like writing you a love letter now. 🙂

        I hope you know that I’m always interested in reading what you’re up to too. I love seeing pics of your trips out of the house, I giggle when you worry if you got bin day wrong, and when you’re not doing well I want to know so I can pray for you. YOU are an amazing person!

  • Terri

    You had me at Jane Austen! Very thought provoking post, great questions. I think if I am honest, I have become more authentically myself through my on-line friendships. My world expanded with social media and I have been able to meet so many incredible women, like you! I just ordered your book, the story of Naomi and Ruth has always been a favorite. We recently heard a reflection given by a bereaved dad and Bible scholar on Naomi’s grief journey and it was a moment I won’t forget. Thank you so much for your wise words and thoughts to reflect on through the day.

    • OO! You ordered my book!! Thank you very kindly!
      It’s really interesting to hear you say you’ve become more authentic through online friendships. I think that is true for me, too – though I don’t know if its something about gathering writers in one place that makes it more intimate, or if this would be true of non-writers, too.
      I can totally imagine that the reflection given by a bereaved Dad on Naomi’s grief journey would be incredible. I think it’s so powerful whenever we remember that the characters in the Bible were real people with real emotions -that’s when I really engage with it.
      (And HUZZAH! for Jane Austen!)

  • Emilie Bishop

    YES to all of this! I recently had a conversation with a dear, close friend that started in person but finished over email. The facts were laid out in person, facts of how her former husband had hurt her once (a subject she never discusses, especially since I met her after their divorce). But it was over email, a few hours later and with the safety to react in private, that I was able to say something more than how shocked I was by his behavior and that she was able to find healing and express a level of love all her old walls don’t often allow. When we saw each other in person a few days later, we were the same yet different, knowing God’s redemption had been present in a powerful way, yet still needing to chat and laugh together over the daily events of life. So…yeah. Not quite blogging-related, but in the same vein.

    (My husband would also call this #howintrovertscommunicate 🙂

    • Loving the hashtag!
      That’s so interesting – thanks so much for sharing your story about your friend. I was thinking of this as well in terms of people dying. There’s so much we want to say to people about how much we love them and how much they’ve meant to me – but it’s almost impossible to say it in person, because after about 30 seconds, the person looks abashed and starts protesting, or says nice stuff back. You don’t get to say your ten minutes-worth, because social dynamics don’t allow for it. Hmmmm…I’m going to think on this a while longer! Thanks so much for this comment.

  • latepaul99

    Sometimes the answer is neither.

    I’m often not very articulate in person but on social media I’m too aware of the unintended audience. Though I’m sure as you say, stuff “leaks out”.

    Thanks for the article.

    • That’s a really good point – on social media sometimes we can be so hampered and hamstrung by thinking through the different ramificaitons of our words, and who could possibly read it. I think most people get by with just not thinking about it – but the papers are full of people who forgot the unintended audience and were acting as though they had a private conversation, and soon were disgraced publicly. It’s good to be careful, but hard to get the balance between caution and just plain ‘hiding’. 🙂 Thanks so much for your perspective.

  • So interesting. Yes, I have found that in some cases, I know people better because I read their words first. Like some of my favorite people I’ve met in the last year were blog friends. We never chatted casually, we just read our real honest stories and dreams and then when we did meet in person, we could jump from zero-60 like that.

    • Yes! Me too! I think some of my best friends right now are blog friends – it creates that common ground and intimacy. I met one of my best friends for the first time this year. It was weird not to have a screen between us, and to be talking at normal volume rather than ‘Skype volume’, but other than that, it was completely natural