Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Very Public Private Person

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

Not an Oxymoron

Who has time to let relationships unfold? Who feels safe, doing that? Not me.

Ever since I began facilitating programs for new executives, new managers and emerging leaders at work, and ever since I enrolled in grad school, I've been trying to learn what I could about the participants and my classmates prior to meeting them face to face for the first time.

With the participants, it was a matter of looking up their behind-the-firewall, online profile, to see their role and any of their activity with internal online communities. With classmates, it was about looking them up on Facebook, to see whatever I could, depending on their privacy settings.

Was I being prepared, or controlling? Curious, or anxious?

For the participants, I felt that I was doing extra preparation, to understand their business mission and role, and their degree of Web 2.0 adoption. With classmates, perhaps I was being a bit voyeuristic. But why? I told myself that it was my intense interest in connecting with other people that made me try to find things I had in common with them, or at least activities of theirs that interested me...but when I confessed what I do to my most recent cohort of classmates, I felt kinda creepy, and I think a number of them were a bit creeped out as well.

Do I have an extraordinary need to be known by, and to know, others? Or is this behavior of an irredeemable control-queen/king? I mean, by posting what some might consider my every thought on my blogs (IBM and public), Twitter and Facebook profiles, am I doing so in order not to be surprised by anyone's unexpected inquiry, to avoid feeling caught off-guard? If I tell you everything upfront, can we streamline our relationship? Or can we avoid a relationship altogether if what I tell you repels you?

Of course, what interests me most is your reaction to what I share, which most of the time, you do not tell me. For example, a colleague from a faraway country, who's also a friend on Facebook, was visiting my work-site the other day and told me, "I love your status messages. When you talk about going swimming, it reminds me that I need to get to the gym. I feel like I'm close with you, just by getting to see your daily updates...." If we had not seen each other, would she have ever told me that?

Or am I paradoxically private -- trying to manage what you think of me by serving up all sorts of my thoughts, to distract you from asking questions about features of me you don't yet know or understand, and which I might be too uncomfortable to answer?

Of course, the work I'm doing of letting myself be known and of exploring how others portray themselves is all an illusion of control, perhaps...but maybe not as much of an illusion as some might think, since, according to Jeffrey Rosen in "The Web Means the End of Forgetting:"
A recent study suggests that people on Facebook and other social-networking sites express their real personalities, despite the widely held assumption that people try online to express an enhanced or idealized impression of themselves. Samuel Gosling, the University of Texas, Austin, psychology professor who conducted the study, told the Facebook blog, “We found that judgments of people based on nothing but their Facebook profiles correlate pretty strongly with our measure of what that person is really like, and that measure consists of both how the profile owner sees him or herself and how that profile owner’s friends see the profile owner.”

By comparing the online profiles of college-aged people in the United States and Germany with their actual personalities and their idealized personalities, or how they wanted to see themselves, Gosling found that the online profiles conveyed “rather accurate images of the profile owners, either because people aren’t trying to look good or because they are trying and failing to pull it off.” (Personality impressions based on the online profiles were most accurate for extroverted people and least accurate for neurotic people, who cling tenaciously to an idealized self-image.)
How much of my online activity is fear-based? Am I just the other side of the coin of the people, who avoid expressing themselves in online venues altogether?


Amy Neufeld said...

I have thought about a lot of these things as well. I, too, will generally find out all I can about a person before I interact with them by phone or in person. I think it is somewhat fear based and somewhat control oriented. But its not that I'm looking to control the other person, just the situation. I've always been somewhat of a chameleon - changing my personality to suit those around me. Though I'm less like that as I age, I still like to know what I'm in for and the better I know someone, the less likely I am to panic. Its a really complex issue.

Sarah Siegel said...

Amy, thanks for your comment. Weird how we managed to ride bikes without helmets, growing up, and to make friends without having all of these Web 2.0 tools at our fingertips.

Still, I think that people pretty much behave online the way they behave offline, except that perhaps I feel more confident in my behavior online somehow.

Little Ms Blogger said...

You're not as private as you think you are because you have a blog where you share your name with those that read.

I'm selective about the people I let know my identity on my blog. I'm open to a point, but phrase things to address the overall issue of a situation, not the particulars.

As a negotiator, you learn that knowledge is power and if you listen well, you will learn more about the person than they intended.

I don't believe anyone wants to feel vulnerable and sometimes learning more about another helps you feel a little more in control.

Great post. However, if Jeffrey Rosen studied dating sites, his conclusion would be wrong. Many married men pretend to be single and many put down attributes that they'd like or would strive to have.

Sarah Siegel said...

Thanks for your comment, and see, this just frustrated me: I visited your blog, but it was anonymous, and I wanted to know who was behind this interesting comment.

Now, your comment on my blog feels like a hit-and-run, where I feel odd about being in a dialogue with you, since I don't know who "you" is.

I could think harder about why this unnerves me, but it looks like a storm's coming and we might lose power, so I'll just save this and post it now, even half-finished as it feels.

Amy Neufeld said...

If we had had the web when we were growing up, I fear I would have done a lot less bike-riding and other things! So its probably best that we didn't. Though it sure would have helped with researching papers and such! As far as my online personality vs my real one, I think they are pretty similar except I'm WAY more outgoing online. And (hopefully) don't put my foot in my mouth as often as in real life!

rucsb said...

Sarah....i am going to answer question you asked in your blog in a slightly different manner. I am taking this conversation to a different tangent altogether..have you heard of the term paralysis by analysis....

Just relax !

You are pretty much a Sociable public person compared to me . Private is a relative term , compared to what ..for example..
i keep my personal blog private and do not have the courage ( unlike you) to share my thoughts openly. ( Just because, i am a very very private person , hoplessly , INTP ( my MBTI profile ) & do not want to be judged by others , i am what i am ! Point )

You are what you are ! Full stop.
I think you have self awareness which is a great quality.
As per Johari window, there are certain blind spots which are not known to self but to others. It would be interesting to discover Blind spots for oneself. i guess, through this blog, you try to uncover those blind spots, not that it is a facade.

Stay well ! Stay happy !
Cheers !

Little Ms Blogger said...

Sarah, I'm sorry for not identifying myself. I sometimes link my blog on FB and thought you might recognize who Little Ms Blogger is...

Joan Beland Dale Stroh (wow, you'd think with 4 names I'd have a crown).


Sarah Siegel said...

...or be Latina; most people I know with four names are Hispanic. Just spent some time with your blog, which is great.

Glad to be re-connecting with you in this creative way. Who knew how self-expressive we'd both become as we sat in Stamford High School classes together.