Being a sociology major, I’ve had a lot of exposure to Erving Goffman. His claim to fame was his theory of dramaturgy: the idea that interactions between people were conducted on a “stage” and were a type of performance. Each person has a backstage and a front stage and can play a variety of roles. Where those roles intersect, people begin to construct their identity. With the emergence of various social media, Goffman’s theories are more applicable than ever.
Each social media platform is a different stage, a different place to perform. The most exhilarating thing is that you can choose which role you play. You could be the same character on each stage, but most likely you aren’t. For example on my Facebook you can see me living my college student life. You see what I write to my friends about classes, which school sponsored events I’m attending, and who I spend my time with. But never once on my Twitter have I made a reference to anything school related. On that account I am exposed for the reality TV buff that I am. And on my blog I am the sarcastic writer.
Another new thing about these stages? They don’t happen in real time. What I mean is that I can think for hours about my “performance”, fine tuning it until it’s ready to show to my audience. And then it’s there for…well…ever. The audience doesn’t react in real time either. It could be years before anyone ever comments on my blog. What’s nice about this is that you can say whatever you want without having to worry if anyone will care. That changes the dynamic a little bit. On the social media stages, I have no way of knowing who my audience is going to be, but that doesn’t matter as much as the expression. For some reason it feels good to tweet about something embarrassing. Much better than keeping it inside.
So what would Goffman say now? Erving, what do you think about our multiple stages? What do you think about the fact that we can play a million cyber-roles at the same time? Or the fact that we can meticulously sift through our performance before showing our audience? How does that affect the way we interact in real time?
Are we adept performers, because of our constant practice online, or has this handicapped us because in real time we can’t practice like we’re used to on the internet?