- June 6, 2014
- Posted by: Wendy Lu
- Category: Digital Detox
This past spring before graduating college, I completed my senior honors thesis on online social media personas. Without getting too technical, I basically looked at how people create online identities for themselves through social media—specifically blogs—and how that’s different from who they are in person and how other internet users see them. We all strive to portray ourselves online in the best light possible (at least when under our real names—trolls hiding behind pseudonyms and other anonymizing shrouds don’t count). We don’t post Facebook statuses for every single thing we do and think; we reveal only certain facets of our lives that we want others to see.
In turn, we put too much emphasis on Facebook profiles and other online pages when judging someone’s character. Friends do it when they meet for the first time, stalking one another on Facebook after the obligatory “friending.” Employers do it when they search potential new employees to gauge their “digital footprint,” and they’ll often find social media-related reasons that make or break hiring decisions. I did it before a first date two years ago with a guy I’d met on the bus; we Facebooked each other beforehand, and judging from his pictures (he was an animal lover) and statuses (his loved photography), he seemed like a pretty decent guy. It sounds shallow of me, but the thing is, the guy totally admitted to browsing my Facebook profile, too. Online stalking has become not only expected, but also accepted in society as a form of “getting to know you.” (For anyone wondering, my “digital first impression” of him turned out to be wrong and it didn’t work out.)
I’m not saying social media is bad, or even that it’s an inaccurate representation. After all, I’m a journalist, and social media is a part of my job and personal branding. But I realized my social media habits were getting in the way of real human connection during a recent cooking date when one of my friends expressed her disinterest in Facebook and said she preferred email and in-person interactions (like our cooking date).
I was completely baffled by the thought of not having a Facebook. It occurred to me that perhaps I relied too heavily on what my friends put online as a means of determining who they were and what their daily lives were like in comparison to my own—or, as my Facebook-less sister calls it, “comparing your insides with other people’s outsides.” The truth is, our social media profiles display just one side of who we are.
So in an attempt to think outside the Internet, I’ve compiled a list of seemingly little details that reveal people’s quirks and lifestyles like no filtered Instagram (#)selfie or “Hobbies” section ever could.
1. Facial Expressions
Nothing beats actual face-to-face conversations where you don’t have to stare at a tiny, pixelated picture. You can learn a lot from candid facial expressions—i.e., not posed (as in Facebook photos). Do they raise their eyebrows when they’re confused, or tilt their heads? Do they smile when they pass by strangers, or do they avoid eye contact and look straight ahead? Also, it is so much more engaging to laugh together at the same joke instead of awkwardly typing “haha.”
In sophomore year, there was a guy in one of my classes who never spoke during seminar. Consequently, I didn’t really get a grasp of his personality for a long time—the shy type. (Or maybe an active listener, like me?) It wasn’t until halfway through the semester that we heard his voice—really heard it, I mean. One minute, the class was quiet, and the next, the entire room was drowning in booming laughter—rich like chocolate, deep like the sea. It’d all been the “quiet kid,” whom I soon learned was anything but shy. Moral of the story? You can’t hear an adorable, unexpected chuckle like that through instant messaging.
3. Driving habits.
You can tell a lot about people by how they drive and treat other drivers, mainly their patience and overall temperance. You might look at me and think I’m an innocent little girl (technically I’m 21, but for some reason I look like a 12-year-old), but ride shotgun in my car and you’ll hear me swear under my breath when someone cuts me off on the street or even shout just to let off steam. There are other people who, no matter how frustrated they are, don’t and won’t fall into road rage. I admire these people.
4. How they take their coffee, tea, alcohol, etc.
What does java have to do with anything? You’d be surprised by how many people bond over their favorite cappucinos and mixed drinks. I bought a close friend her first drink for her 21st birthday (a high honor, indeed), and it was a Cheerwine—my late-night go-to. It’s a fond memory we like to reminisce about every now and then. Among friends, you can share edibles and beverages with one another, providing a chance to try new things and discuss preferences. I suppose you could learn about all this from a friend’s Saturday night #latergrams or recipes on his or her Pinterest board, but it’s more fun to just drink and chat IRL, no?
5. What’s in one’s refrigerator (and other home furniture/decor)
The kinds of foods people enjoy may be related to their culture or lifestyle. I’ve seen everything from year-old sticks of butter and piles of pizza boxes to quinoa and black bean paste—all of which say something different about the consumer. Food is also a big part of regional personalities. In China, many restaurants are specialized by the regional style of food they serve (e.g. Shanghai-style cuisine, Beijing roast duck). Different regions are known for different tastes and flavors; for instance, Szechuan province is known for its spicy food, while Shanghai cuisine is mild and even a little sweet. Other clues to a person’s individuality you’ll find in homes include color themes, interior design, and knick-knacks.
“Digital Detox” is a weekly series curated by writer and curriculum developer Wendy Lu. Every Friday, we want to inspire you with content that focuses on disconnecting from technology and rekindling a human connection. To stay current with our latest posts, follow #digitaldetox on our other platforms, and check back regularly for updates.