Social Media Explained, via Alter Egos
As seen on Medium.com: With the posting of a murdered woman’s body on Facebook this summer lingering for hours, the site’s reputation as the garbage dump of the Internet was sealed for me. What is it about Facebook that brings out the caveman in us? Why is it an epicenter of misogyny? Why are serious discussions mocked? Why does the same guy who is having an intelligent discussion with me on LinkedIn about the vulturous profits of Exxon, down fiery volcano shots live when he logs on to Facebook?
I have an alter ego theory that might explain this.
I think we all have alter egos. Avatars. You know—the stronger, prettier, curvier, braver, improved version of your hidden self. Desires, personified. Under cover of darkness, the cloak of anonymity, a blank slate to reinvent ourselves, or rewrite our story, the Internet encourages us to project our fantasies onto the screen, where we can see and breathe life into them.
An avatar, an assumed name, a fake email account allows the alter ego to grow, breed, blossom, thrive and sometimes, unfortunately, lurk. Other times, it’s invigorating and empowering: A shy tween can be a rock star princess on YouTube. A socially isolated college kid can be the leader of an online battle troupe in Minecraft. Thanks to social media and gaming, we can be anything we want—on the small screen.
“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.” ― Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind
Different media attract different alter egos
On all the social media, we carefully curate and publish, for the world, a show — a highly censored, projected wish fulfillment of who we want to be, who we want to be seen as.
Facebook: Life’s a party. Party invites, party photos. Class parties. Party rape. Nothing highbrow or you’ll be mocked: I ranted on Facebook about a post showing an older driver crashing through a storefront, I did not think it was funny. (I’m from Miami where older, impaired seniors randomly drive over people all the time.) “Relax, Kim,” my friend Mario chided me. “This is Facebook!”
YouTube is the 21st century version of the Talent Show. Here tweens and teens can become pop stars, fashion models and artists. My daughters spend hours watching others do makeup, up-dos, Sculpey, Rainbow Loom. (It’s better than the Disney Channel.)
Twitter: The suggestion box of the Internet—our highest hopes, social good. This is where we go to change the world and start “evolutions.” I am still in awe the role tweets played in Arab Spring and bringing Rush Limbaugh to his knees, where he belongs, after his excoriation of Sandra Fluke.
Tumblr Alter World. The favorite social networking site of Americans under age 25. Here, layers of pseudonyms allow people to express themselves and reveal their true identity or alter ego, without MOS. A passionate social justice community that doesn’t judge others based on skin tone or gender identity welcomes all.
Pinterest: Women and men pin their aspirations to the board for all to see.
Online dating: Here people project their prettier, leaner self. Because the reality often does not match up, the common experience is disappointment.
Minecraft allows you to build your own colony and tap into the true primitive instinct to collect and gather as we did eons ago. (Also the most visited page onTumblr.)
Video Games: Grand Theft Auto is in its fifth edition and is one of the leading selling games in the world because it allows the rebel to steal, shoot, take risks and stir the ever controlled adrenal gland to a point of power arousal that can’t be found in our conformist society of rules, schedules and order.
Alter egos can be therapeutic according to Craig Keefe, LICSW and Clinical Director of the Academy for Physical and Social Development, a counseling center near Boston. “Kids with Asperger Syndrome find that the anonymity of the Internet allows them to take social risks, explore their creativity socially, make lasting and valid social connections along with empowering them to feel more confident. These are all deficit areas for Asperger’s kids. So to say we are administering a treatment plan for a person with social deficits to go and create an alter ego to practice and go through social repetitions of the ego, may not be too far from the truth.”
Segmenting your customers by persona is a common practice in marketing today. Marketers like Faith Popcorn know what an older man is buying when he buys at $75,000 red, shiny sports car. Hint: It’s not transportation. It’s virility, sexiness, prestige. He may be 71, but I assure you his alter ego driving the car is not. Marketers who intuitively understand alter egos will always be more successful than those who do not.
Examples of alter egos
Miley Cyrus: A really good example of what happens if you suppress your alter ego. When it gets out of “jail” — in this case the world of Disney — it goes on a rampage. It twerks, drools, grinds and does unflattering things with foam fingers. It tries to dance, when it cannot.
Steve Jobs: Cowboy, maverick,disruptor extraordinaire. Rebel with a cause. Made-in-America brand of entrepreneurship.
Katy Perry: She represents the alter ego so many young girls have — of being saucy, sexy, victorious, strong. In her latest hit, Roar she sings.. “I am the eye of the tiger..you’re gonna hear me roar… I went from zero to my hero…You held me down but I got up. I’ve had enough…” Did you know Katy Perry is devout? Both her parents are pastors. Katheryn Elizabeth Hudson clings to her faith but you won’t find her crooning about that. Katy Perry is her own alter ego.
Rihanna: The good-girl-gone-bad, like Madonna and Marilyn. However, Rihanna has successfully taken the Strong Sex Goddess alter ego to a new level with her talent. Miley wishes she could be this bad, and dance this good.
Some alter egos are utterly delusional, like the plump little girl on YouTube trying to be Katy Perry, or Miley Cyrus trying to be Rihanna. Others are vile, and give life to egos that should be repressed or jailed or never see the light of day. Others literally give us the air we need to breathe until we have the courage to act on it, to become one’s true self.
What is it about images, photography, video, and any collection of images on screen that validate and bring to life our alter ego?