She’s Funny On Twitter: Being Online is Weird

“It’s so weird. It’s like, her tweets are so funny, but she’s so boring in real life.”

The words fell out of my mouth during a casual shit-talking session with a friend. We shrugged and went back to complaining about the heat. It was a conversation that meant nothing — I don’t even remember who we were talking about in the first place. So why did the words linger in my throat for days?

I’ve been crafting an internet presence for as long as I can remember. Not intentionally, that’s fucking lame, but I feel like I’ve always been on the internet and that it was always important to have some sort of discernible online personality. I’m talking waaaaaay back — the forums of Zodiac Girlz (so ahead of its time, right??), making heaps of Neofriends at the impressionable age of 11, having the sleekest MySpace layout (carefully coded by yours truly) or the most emo, normie-hating away message, no, FONT, even, on AIM. It was like cramming my personality wherever it fit.

During my first semester of college I took a writing seminar with a name along the lines of “Identity & the Self,” which is heady and vague enough. The professor was a cool and smart guy, it was a lot of Locke and Being John Malkovich and Memento, it generally dealt a lot with memory and stuff of the like. But in the last couple of weeks, we scratched the surface of the budding importance of digital identity and the ways we internalize our online experiences. Again, we only scratched the surface. It was brief. I couldn’t even tell you what I said about it in my final paper. But it was something I had never thought about before. And it’s something I have to actively try to not think about now.

Being the digital pioneer (ew) I am, I joined Twitter in 2009 and have managed to amass a decent amount of followers since then. Nothing crazy or anything and I SWEAR I don’t think about this a lot, it’s just some context, okay?!?!! I tweet a shitload and I’ve gotten pretty decent at writing succinct one-liners on whatever. People tell me I’m funny and that they like my tweets often, which is very nice of them and I appreciate it. But there’s something reaaaally eerie about being introduced to someone at a party with, “This is Vanessa! She has THE BEST tweets.”

I know this is innocuous. I know it’s well-intended. I know that, above all, it’s a compliment. But it’s pretty goddamn weird.

I suppose select groups of people always had this issue, like writers and filmmakers and whatnot. Separating this projection of a self, or at the very least, ideas or written words, from the actual or authentic self isn’t easy. Not to an audience, and not to oneself — the self being more worrisome.

To be on social media is to have this weird, floating ghost of a personality nailed to your shadow. While my accounts obviously don’t define me, I still feel like I’m kind of hiding something if I meet someone and they don’t see them, or I wish they would ask so I could use them as a springboard to be like, hey! I do have these cool thoughts and ideas! I am funny! I have a good eye! I like good music! LoOOoK aTTT mEeeee!

I was talking to my friend about his internship and his relationships with his co-workers a while back. We were saying how much it sucks to start at a place and not really be able to be yourself yet and then they think you’re quiet/boring/nervous/etc. and don’t invite you to drinks after work and — what? Just us? Anyway, we were talking about that, and he said, “I wish they could like, just ask me for my Twitter or something so they would know how fucking hilarious I am.” What a sentiment! What the fuck? But it’s TRUE! Using social media as this crutch, or more like a preview of our personality for outsiders, has become such an essential part of meeting people or breaking into new groups. But why, why, why wouldn’t we just be able to crack a joke in the coffee room or make a quip about the weather and achieve the same effect?

Social media allows for a completely unconstrained version of the self. While some people may act completely differently to be ~cool online, or whatever, most people use it as a one-sided conversation that is open to responses, but not dependent on them. Is this who we would be if we were completely, utterly comfortable with someone? Or if our friends always retorted in just the right way? Or if screaming in the dark about our favorite films and movies was always thought-provoking to some stranger? Maybe it’s just the safety net of knowing that our 140 characters will be read, maybe heart’d, and then thrown back by the 140 characters of someone else, or the instant gratification of someone liking something you said oh so much that they’d be willing to regurgitate it onto their own profile and be like, “Ha! Preeeetty good!” to their own friends. Perhaps its just this physical evidence of some sloppily thrown appreciation that makes our online personas sometimes feel more authentic than our IRL ones. Affirmation for an unconstrained you feels... good.

Of course, with this comes some more petty aspects, like judging other people off the way they type or the pictures they choose to upload. Tinder is a stellar example of this kind of thing. I’ve found myself literally disregarding people because they don’t type “”cool”” or their pictures aren’t “”alt”” enough. I know, I’m the worst, but I’m not alone.

I was seeing someone I met while out briefly and swiped upon his Tinder profile a couple weeks later. His pictures didn’t do him any justice, his bio was bland, and he had not one drop of his personality fall through onto any aspect of his profile, and I immediately thought, “Jesus, I would’ve definitely swiped left if I didn’t know him.” And this was someone who I really liked — someone with a multitude of interests and hobbies. Someone smart with great taste and sharp wit. Someone who couldn’t translate any of that online. And then I realized it was fucking bogus to judge people on how well they can flex their personalities on a platform that is essentially as mindless as breathing in and out. Some people are good at the internet. Some people are okay. Some people are bad. And how much that reflects who they actually are as a person is inconsistent and not really a meter to be used. Fully coming to terms with this is a work in progress.

It’s not like I’m gonna stop using social media because, let’s face it, I need an OUTLET, baby! I know that it’s a weird machine, though. I’m churning through it the best I can. I’m trying to lessen the dissonance between who I am when I’m livetweeting a new album and who I am when I meet someone in a coffee shop; but not completely. Some things are better left kept to myself, or to my online friends who I know for a FACT will also care about X topic, because social cues be damned, I’ll say what I want on HERE! To my well-earned AUDIENCE!!

I suppose how much of a self is constructed and construed is ultimately a personal choice, for better or for worse. The nature of social media is pervasive, but it doesn’t have to be if you don’t want it to be, or if you don’t think about these things. But again, if you want it to, let it fly, I guess! If a platform lets you be the most authentic version of yourself, especially in a way that empowers you, so be it. Just maybe don’t depend on it. Until Apple lets us have, like, holograms and shit of our greatest Favstar hits follow us around, we’re still going to have to make that quip in the coffee room to get that coworker to realize you’re actually pretty funny. But don’t sweat it— you’re gonna knock it out of the park.

So while there may not be anything wrong with whispering in real life while screaming online, there’s still something so odd about primarily being considered “funny online”. I’d like to be introduced with something like, “This is Vanessa. She’s funny and has good thoughts! Shake hands!” someday, but for now, I’ll just take the fucking compliment.