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.”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?
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.)