The collision of fronts

I have been thinking for a while now about a post on Design Research about the problems with Facebook’s attempt to monetize its social network assets (that’s us) by making us into unwitting viral marketers. The author, Sam Ladner, reminds us of Erving Goffman’s notion of “the front”:

Using the theatre as a metaphor Goffman argued that we actually “perform” multiple selves. Each place we go has a “front” that we learn to incorporate. A front has a wardrobe, a setting, a decor, make-up, a script and stage direction.

Ladner argues that

Facebook’s Beacon didn’t work because it forces people to use multiple fronts AT THE SAME TIME.

In my view, even without Beacon, Facebook has that propensity. And so does blogging, particularly this kind of blogging where some of us are attempting to integrate blogging about our research and blogging about whatever else we want to blog about, including ourselves. We can choose what we blog about, which is a lot better than having our online purchases broadcast to everyone on our social network (surely they thought how embarrassing that could be?). But if we are going to blog in our real names about real things then there will be a collision of fronts.

Sam Ladner has pinpointed for me the issue that I felt but wasn’t articulating so well, which has been holding me back from “research blogging”. Now all I have to do is work out how to use multiple fronts at the same time without worrying. No – I have to start enjoying it!

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3 Responses to “The collision of fronts”

  1. Peter Fletcher Says:

    Let the collision take place. Maybe as we sit amidst the wreckage we’ll realise there was never anything really to worry about. In making up our multiple virtual selves we also make up the carnage that results from an accident that didn’t really happen.

  2. Pam Rosengren Says:

    Good point about the carnage and where it comes from. We chop ourselves up.

    But we don’t just do this online, we do it in meatspace too. For example, someone might work as a doctor in a corporate medical practice, and be an Afro-Latin percussionist, with Middle Eastern dance as a hobby, and she is also a mother. OK that is a really weird example. But it describes my own life before I got sick and had to drop all but the mother role. I have never experimented with virtual selves.

    I used to experience role strain in a big way. Those corporate types I worked for did *not* know the percussionist/bellydancer in their midst. They thought I was very quiet, and for some reason very religious. Mostly I also concealed my dayjob identity from the alternative folks I played and danced with, due to their prejudice against doctors.

    If Facebook had been around then can you imagine the fun? The bosses, my professional colleagues, the receptionists, the drug reps, the reprobate percussionists, the dancers all in one group called friends? (I’m on Facebook now, by the way.)

    Where I am at now (internet studies) there isn’t as much of the intolerance that I used to experience on both sides of my divided life. And a lot of bloggers are all over the place, leaving it to tags and categories to lend any consistency to what they do. So yes, let the collision take place…

  3. Viviane Morrigan Says:

    I was just talking about this very issue recently as I mused about how Facebook has confronted me with the multiple ‘fronts’ I use in the very different social groups I circulate in meatspace (love the term!). Goffman is still so relevant – maybe more relevant as the internet expands the numbers of performers and the size of the audience we can perform for? Yes, role strain can be a problematic side of it at times, but it can also give a sense of empowerment in what one decides to divulge or not. This complexity is of course well-known to GLBTIQ people. And this complexity, I think, is a challenge to Peter’s blithe statement that there may not be anything to worry about. We may make up some of the carnage but I don’t accept that it’s all our ‘fault’.

    And further to another blog of yours about viral marketing, I have have been *soo* irritated by the viral marketing ‘fun’ things circulating on Facebook, which I can’t participate in because I don’t want them to access my information. I am definitely committed to resisting full immersion in the marketing culture of the noughties.

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