Watching me… Watching you

I’m pretty new to the whole social media thing, which is pretty odd for a self-confessed technophile. I’ve had a Facebook page for a while, but looking at it was probably a bit like listening to a record of a mime artist: you were pretty sure something must be going on, but you certainly couldn’t detect any evidence of it. The reason for my lack of social media interest isn’t dislike of technology (I love pressing buttons!) but generally being a crap communicator. I am not one of those people with a Christmas card list that runs to a second volume.

Not long ago I decided that this was not only probably irresponsible, but also wasteful. This is a time when, if you are looking for a new job, your employer is probably going to look for evidence of your life online. It’s a familiar story – tales of people not getting that new job, or getting sacked from a job they already had, because of the pictures of that drunken party on Facebook, or that injudicious comment on Twitter.

So, I thought, if I have a Facebook page, it had better say things about me that I would be happy for an employer to hear. If they’re going to come looking – give them something to look at. (Not that I had pictures of drunken parties in the first place, you understand.) I’m still working on the whole Facebook thing (my life hasn’t suddenly developed any interesting events, unfortunately), but, here we are with this blog. (Which is partly online showing-off – aren’t they all! – and partly self-indulgent rambling.)

Another thing, though, is Goodreads. Being a voracious reader, I thought I’d set up a Goodreads profile and see where that led. It has led in a direction I didn’t entirely expect, but in a good way.

When putting details of your life on the internet, you can do one of two things: just plaster anything and everything up there, or edit.

If you just stick anything up there, you’re likely (unless you have a really interesting life) to be boring, verbose, and possibly dancing on the edge of catastrophe if you have a sensitive job. If you edit, then you have to pick and choose what to post and, inevitably, what kind of image you want to project.

With Goodreads, this goes both ways. Goodreads allows you to post the book you’re reading, how far into it you are, and review it. You build up your bookshelf of books you’ve read, and the books you’d like to read. You can add other shelves too, such as favourite books.

The thing is, the books a person reads, and what they think of them, shows an awful lot about their personality. If you look at a person’s bookshelf, it’s like looking at their mind laid out in front of you. You may well know a man by the company he keeps, but you also know a man by the books he reads.

A Goodreads profile, therefore, is voluntary disclosure. Here I am. This is me. But you can choose what to disclose, choose whether to admit to reading trashy romances, or not. However, this only goes so far. The whole point of a Goodreads profile is to share information about what you read with others; if you’re going to keep quiet about it all, you might as well not bother.

So I have been religiously updating my profile with the books I’ve read, and – from now on – reviewing each one, even if it’s only a few words. But the interesting thing is that the act of making public what I have read makes me think more about what I am going to read. I would never read a book just because I think its ‘the thing to do’; every book on my profile I have read, and the rating and review are honest. But I find myself considering more, consciously attempting to read more of a variety. I’ve mentioned before that I’m an urban fantasy fan, but since I put up my Goodreads profile, I’ve been consciously reading books in other genres. All books that I intended to read anyway – it’s more a matter of timing, or motivation. A case of, if not now, then when?

I think this is a good thing; it’s easy to get into a rut, reading the same sort of book all the time because it’s intellectually undemanding. But if you know that you’re going to put your choices out there in public, there’s more of an incentive to make the choices good ones. If my reading character is going to be on display, I want it to be a well-rounded one.

I suppose this is a hidden blessing, or curse, of social media. By eroding the sphere of privacy further, making hitherto private actions public, we are induced to change what we do to create another layer of the mask we wear in society. We cannot change who we are, but we can control how we are perceived, and sometimes the mask changes the person behind it.

So far, for me, the changes have been positive.

What do you think?


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