“Profile Pic!” says my friend as she returns my camera.
Excited, I scroll through the pictures where I am standing in a strong yogic “tree pose” with the beautiful Moraine Lake in the background. In the picture, my fingers are reaching to the sky and I stand tall on my right leg, with my back to the camera. As I place the camera in its case, I can already imagine all the “likes” and comments that would appear under my picture once I upload it onto a social media site. I walk away from the scene without taking a second look at one of Canada’s most beautiful sceneries.
This picture reflects a number of intentions: I wanted to show off my yoga skills and remember the breath-taking scenery of Moraine Lake. The picture would become an anchor of one the best trips of my life. The picture was also an attempt to exemplify my “hoped-for-possible self”, which unfortunately, came at a cost.
The “hoped-for-possible self” is a socially desirable representation of what a person would like to be, or become, given the appropriate conditions. The intention is infinite when selecting a profile picture: one might want to present as adventurous (e.g., a picture of you rock climbing), mysterious (e.g., your shadow on the beach at sunset), outgoing (e.g., you at the lab Christmas party last year, holding your fifth glass of eggnog), or caring (e.g. playing with your new nephew). Social networking sites amplify the public process of identity construction and identity announcement. Clicking the “Like” icon, or adding a supportive comment such as “you look incredible!” are examples of identity placement – the act of endorsing another person’s identity announcement. When profile pictures are carefully selected and supported by others, an online hoped-for-possible self is born. In the online universe, identities that aren’t necessarily true in the “real-world” are actualized with the click of a button.
In my opinion, the picture is ideal for my online profile as it reflects my love of travel and yoga. Yet, I continue to wonder whether the picture or any other of my profile pictures truly represent who I am. I wonder whether a single picture can really encompass an individual’s personality, likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses. Undoubtedly, the opportunity we have to represent ourselves in various realms (i.e., the internet and the ‘real-world’) comes with its set of downfalls.
Most importantly, I realized that maintaining an online identity has bled into my everyday life. Living a dual life – online and in the ‘real-world’ – has taken me away from living in the moment, because capturing snippets of my experiences into pictures becomes more important than the actual experience. Looking back at the picture of me in the tree pose in front of Moraine Lake, I cannot help but wonder what I would have seen if I had taken another moment to indulge in the surroundings. Instead, I have static picture to remind me of an infinite number of moments, and many friends “Liking” it.
originally published in http://www.cpa.ca/docs/File/Students/MindPad/mindpadspring2013/