The Presentation of Self" To Contemporary Society
In his book ‘The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life,’ Erving Goffman explores individuals’ interpersonal interaction in relation to how they perform so as to depict or portray a desirable self image. In his analysis, Goffman uses the imagery of theatre to analyze the interaction of human beings within the society they exist. Generally, Goffman’s analysis grounds on the relationship between life and performance (acting). Arguably, that is why he uses the theatre performance symbolically to signify real life human interaction within the society. As such, he uses theatre to exemplify the contrast that exist between front stage and back stage human behaviors. In the process of interaction, those in front stage or participants are referred as actors. While in front stage, the actor is always aware that s/he is being observed by the audience. As such, this makes the actor to perform observing some social conventions and in line with certain rules (Goffman, 1990)
The actor observes all these in order to create or project a specific self persona or image to his or her audience. Failure to comply with the aforementioned observations or guideline implies to losing face according to Goffman analysis. Of great importance to note here is that the actor’s behavior is always different in a private set up – back stage setting for that case where no performance is required. As such, according to Goffman’s analysis, the performance is the self presentation. This is because, the performance subject individuals to form or develop new personalities of oneself with the perception that one has turned into an enhanced person. However, the emergence and advancement of technology has limited the physical social interaction between or among individuals in the society. This paper addresses the presentation of self (self presentation) within the contemporary society (Goffman, 1990).
Goffman outlines that while performing (Self presentation) individuals possess the give and the give off expressions. The latter expressions results to impressions received by the audience that the actor never intended the audience to receive, while the former are impressions that the actor intended the audience to receive or rather, which s/he intended to produce or communicate. Apart from the impressions that individual give and give off while performing (self presentation), Goffman in his analysis also considered other form of imageries or metaphors for that case in respect to self presentation. One such imagery is the use of mask, which signifies a deception of face to face interaction. Through masking the individual performing (self presentation) is able to present and as well marginalize some aspects of one self. However, of great importance to note is that the individual in question does not become a different person by the virtue of masking – the worn mask and the disguised person are features of the same person (Goffman, 1990).
During his time, Goffman highlighted that telephone conversation was a way of marginalizing the way people interact socially and termed as ‘a departure from the norm.’ From Goffman point of view, technology would definitely disrupt the order of social interaction – face to face interaction. In fact, when referring to telephone conversation and terming it a marginalized way of social interaction, Goffman may have been implying that technology-mediated interaction is insufficient due to the absence of physical signals that are there in physical interaction. However, social interaction has evolved over decades with the advancement of modern technologies to such a point that physical interaction has been significantly limited (Goffman, 1990).
For instance, the emergence and advancement of computer-mediated communication has lead to the global acceptance of non-physical online social interaction. The global acceptance of online non-physical social interaction has resulted to questioning the applicability of Goffman’s interaction order within the context of online social interaction. According to Arundale (2010), Goffman’s interaction order is decades and decades old and hence outdated. In fact, according to Arundale (2010), Goffman’s interaction order should be amended to integrate technology and research progress. On the other hand, Miller (n.d) argued that electronic interaction was just but an ordinary extension or addition to what Goffman had already posited.
Computer mediated communication as received a global recognition over the past years. For instance, it possible for people to interact socially through exchanging ideas and feelings freely and with ease through the various social networks such as through Facebook, Skype, twitter, Whatsapp, and among other social network site. Of great importance to note is that through some of the available social networks people can share photos and video links and hence bringing in the presence of physical signals or cues as in conventional physical social interaction. Equally, technology advancement has resulted to the use of blogs as a tool of social communication. In fact, blogging has advanced to include features such as videos, photos, personal biography, bloggers social network profile links, friend lists, and as well to include web 2.0. The inclusion of all of these features plus the customizable backgrounds has enabled bloggers to offer a broad variety of identity pointers. Additionally, all these additional features allow bloggers introduce aspects of communication richness in their communication.
Despite the global recognition of online non physical social interaction, Jenkins (2010) argues that face to face social interaction still remains the real thing. However, Jenkins (2010) continues to acknowledge the progress of computer mediated communication and indicates that computer mediated communications presents an elaborate example of impression management. Equally, Jenkins continues to argue that the gap that existed between digital interaction and face to face social interaction has with time reduced owing to the communication richness that has been introduced in the modern computer mediated communication as a result of technology advancement.
As such, according to Jenkins (2010) analysis, Goffman’s interaction order theories are still applicable in the modern computer mediated communication. In fact, from Jenkins (2010) point of view, Goffman’s interaction order theories remain versatile and are of timelessness nature. Arguably, the physical interactions or for that case the offline interaction are the back stage or bases upon which online interaction occurs. As such, the aspects of giving off and giving that signify the conventional physical interaction can be incorporated to the modern computer mediated communication through the various means of adding communication richness to make it appear real. As such, the remaining part of this paper will describe the applicability of interaction order as outlined by Goffman in his work in respect to self presentation in the modern online world.
It has been aforementioned in this paper that online environment or settings for that case present individuals with a rare opportunity to present and to perform different personalities. The geographical distance between the audience and the performer (self presentation actor or person) makes it simple to cover up offline self aspects and adorn online aspects. From Goffman’s description or analysis for that case, this can be considered as a manifestation of splitting one’s self character during the interaction process. Note that in this case the self is divided in to the two – new and old one self. Jenkins (2010) argues that the new identities of oneself re not developed or created online, but the division of oneself can be found as well in our day to day face to face interactions. For that purpose, the online one-self can be argued as a component of a broader identity – linking the one-self in some other offline contexts. In contrast, Arundale (2010) stipulates that the creation of new one-self is achieved online.
Arundale (2010) outlines that irrespective of how one-self is conceptualized in respect to self presentation, online identity facilitate or plays a major role in persona adoption. In fact, according to some researches, the term non virtual should be used to replace real world. The rationale behind this replacement of the term real world with the term virtual world is because “… Virtual identities created and maintained by users’ non-virtual identities, may be just as real to users as their non-virtual identities”. As such, individuals would not assume their online self identities as being far apart from reality. Baker (2009), in his work, coined an alternative point of view through his concept of blended identity. In this the offline oneself notifies the creation or the development of the new self. The online self subsequently re-notifies the offline oneself for additional interaction with those the person in question initially met online.
The aforementioned scenario can best be understood and explained in respect to Goffman’s face. Goffman explains that the individual in self presentation is “expected to keep face by maintaining the initial impression that they have made on an audience and live up to it” (Goffman, 1990 p.35). The face construction according to Goffman’s description can be likened to the action of putting on a mask. From the point of view of blended identity in respect to Goffman’s framework, it can be deduced that the self refers to the mere action of masking oneself. As such, the mask one chooses to literally put on in a given particular situation. The individual (actor) puts on or dons the mask whenever he or she interacts socially with other individuals online. For that case, the actor leaves the mask on for the intentions of face in upcoming physical interactions. Of importance to note is that the audience is always unaware that a unlike self lies underneath for utilization in a dissimilar situation.
In online environment or setting, the avatar represents a form of mask. As such, the appearance of avatar in an online environment exhibits the interests or role of the user. The customization of avatars in online environment or settings has proved to be of significant importance in second life (SL) contexts than in other forms of virtual worlds. This is an indication that more value is placed in self presentation in second life. As such, users will have a preference for better looking avatars, that are fitter and those that are outstanding than they are in actual or real life. Note that this amounts to identity exploration and for that case a one sided edition or form of it.
In this respect, the online environment or setting for that case can be assumed as a stage in which the backstage is the offline life. The particular actors in this stage invest in their ‘costume’ with the wish of provoking the preferred response from other second life (SL) inhabitants. As such, the avatars are subsequently of focus transformed social interaction. This observable fact implies that with the avatars advert, the users will definitely minimize and emphasis definite elements of self, such as behavior or appearance. This is possible in computer median communication (CMC) because the users have now become creators and editors in the modern global society. This implies that the users are in opposition to design and create their self representations. As such, they are in a position to choose what to depict within the foreground and what to hind within the background.
The fact that the blogger is in a position to maintain several blogs implies that he or she can create diverse persona to identify with each blog. As such, the self has been successfully broken down with each receiving a different set of information. Of great importance to note in these modern computer median communication (CMC) is that some blogs are anonymous and the blogger disseminates inappropriate or inapt subject matter away from the primary blog through a second blog. Note that in this case we have a primary online self, but depending on the needs a second personae maybe utilized. In order to avoid the output of the second personae compromising either the primary online self or the offline self and thus conveying loss of ‘face’ it is important to mask the identity. As such, the second life (SL) correspondent of the next blog is the substitute avatar, or ‘alt’ for that case. Note that these are usually the added avatars and are usually used for different functions to the primary avatar.
Equally, the alternative avatars can be self-sufficient of the primary avatar in that they may be having a dissimilar appearance and even different friends. However, it is important to note that the users behind them remain the same. Owing to the fact that the alts or the alternatives are options for second life (SL) users, they may not have a primary avatar. As such, their different elements identity may be distributed among the various avatars of similar significance. However, this is quite unlikely basing on the fact that 98% of second life (SL) users were found to at least being in a position of identifying one specific avatar as their core representation. Despite the fact that Goffman’s interaction order work involved our day to day social interaction, it can still be argued that the use of alts as previously outlined in this paper is a materialization of Goffman’s work – that in the modern society individuals assume several roles and as well as several identities in their day to day life (Goffman, 1990).
The information collected from second life (SL) inhabitants in respect to identity interaction revealed four major finding: -
Users later stop role playing and hence consequently becoming themselves
Irrespective of the intentions, individuals behave somewhat in a different way when interacting online
A number of individuals will engage in second life (SL) as themselves
While in online interaction individuals cover up some of their personality attributes while at the same emphasizing others
In respect to Goffman’s description, actors or performers initiate the use of props but eventually marginalize them; though, the actor or the performer stills continues performing on stage – however, only the unconscious performance is noted; in so doing, the user stills brings an offline self that performs while interacting with the online environment. Note that aspect of covering up personality attributes of oneself in online interaction is an example of impression management in the conventional physical face to face interaction as described in Goffman’s analysis or description in his interaction order work. In this case of covering up or concealing the personality attributes the actor or the performer is trying to control those elements or aspects of oneself that the audiences perceive. From this analysis it is clear that there is a notable link or connection between the online interaction behavior and Goffman’s interaction order theories (Baker, 2009).
Another area that can be considered in respect to self presentation in the online world is the ‘masking and unmasking’ in identity tourism. Identity tourism refers to the situation in which online environment user, for instance in second life (SL) or in blogging uses his or her anonymity potential to adapt a different race or gender. By doing so, the user talks and behaves in a stereotypical manner. The users of second life (SL) have the tendency of conforming to this norm in the virtual world. Mostly, in respect to identity tourism, second life (SL) users will opt for avatars representing ethnic diversity. However, other online environment users will opt for avatars depicting western and American beauty culture. Generally, users within the main three virtual worlds (inclusive of second life) focus on western beauty concept. As such, older, overweight, and underweight users will always aim at creating younger, fashionable, and leaner versions of themselves (self presentation). Equally, it is common for blacks to use white avatars with the hope or wish that they will be accepted (Arundale, 2010).
In fact, the documented literatures in respect to this issue reveal that the aspect or the idea of being white in the game comes along with certain social advantages. According to Goffman’s analysis, it can be argued that a person attempting or trying to match such a convention in second life (SL) becomes a cynical performer and the desire to win a specific self presentation from his or her audiences prevents him or her from being sincere.
In the modern world, bloggers writing about political issues have to exercise some form of self-censorship in order to avoid arrest and government filtering. This to them implies avoiding analyzing political sensitive topics or to employ some indirect tactics and deliver their intended message – for instance, commenting on the specific situation rather than pointing out their personal opinion, using symbolism and analogy or though writing anonymous content. From Goffman’s perspective, the political bloggers a present self image ‘give’ by editing their message to avoid government confrontation but as well use the aforementioned tactics with the hope that their audience will ‘give off’ and understanding their intended message (Arundale, 2010).
Note that the aspect of self-censoring indicates that the political bloggers are forced to self present a politically acceptable personality. However, they try to depict their true self persona (self presentation) through employing the aforementioned tactics. As such, it can be concluded that the presentation of self is a reflection of a growing trend that says something about our evolution as a society.
Arundale, R. (2010).Face as emergent in interpersonal communication: an alternative to Goffman. In: Bargiela chiappini F. and Haugh M (eds.) Face, communication and social interaction. London: Equinox Publishing.
Baker, A. J. (2009). Mick or Keith: blended identity of online rock fans. Identity in the Information Society; 2: 7-21.
Goffman, E. (1990). The presentation of self in everyday life. London: Penguin.
Jenkins, R. (2010). The 21st century interaction order. London: Routledge.
Miller, H. (n.d).The presentation of self in electronic life: Goffman on the Internet', Proceedings of the embodied knowledge and virtual space conference, retrieved from http://www.dourish.com/classes/ics234cw04/miller2.pdf