If there’s any lessons one can get in “identity management” — that careful curation of who you “are” online — look no further than the digital dating profile.
First, there’s that all-important profile picture — finding those “best light” multiple headshots that visually communicate who you are and what your lifestyle is. Then there’s the off-hand but carefully-worded profile (like that quirky “first date” description), and then, the first message you send that either makes (a casual “how’s it going?”) or breaks (a “ur hot!!11” compliment) that offline coffee date.
Perhaps this seems all too rehearsed and deliberate. But how’s this any different from the time you spent concocting your LinkedIn professional headline or the care you put into live-tweeting reactions to the Oscar’s red carpet fashions?
Like it or not, identity management is work, but there’s still a certain amount of freedom granted. Whereas in real life we have bad hair days and more often than not, spend our Saturday nights in, online can be an entirely different story. Your hair always looks fabulous (and if not — well, that’s what un-tagging is for) and as far as your Facebook friends know, you did RSVP “attending” that downtown dance party.
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Kim Hughes, the Dating and Relationships expert for Canadian dating brand Lavalife.com, thinks that we’re finally reaching a point online where we take for granted online this deliberate curation.
“We accept that people have a somewhat public face on LinkedIn while the face on Lavalife will underscore the more romantic side, which differs entirely from that Facebook profile,” says Hughes. “It’s not difficult to reconcile that if it comes from an authentic place.”
But authenticity is a tricky thing. A 2008 Cornell University study assessing online dating profiles’ “deceptive self-presentation” found that we regularly fib about our age, weight and income. These inaccuracies, however, were proven to be so subtle and small, since the online users were still intent on making that offline coffee date happen.
“The great thing about Facebook is that people tend to be uninhibited because they have a measure of control over who sees their profile, so they tend to be more forthcoming and natural,” explains Hughes. “If somehow we could bring that over to the online dating side, that would benefit everyone.”
– Rea McNamara writes about the on/offline statuses of niches and subcultures. Follow her on Twitter @reeraw