Most Natural “You” Emerges When Masks Collapse

When presenting ourselves to the world, we wear different masks depending on who's around. To our high school friends we'll act one way, to family we'll act a slightly different way, to our boss at work we'll act slightly different still.

Historically the most common distinction made between types of masks has been "personal" and "professional." It wasn't too long ago when once you left the office, work stopped. Now work follows you wherever you go. Telecommuting, etc. So knowledge workers find themselves wearing personal and professional hats at the same time, 24/7, from the office and from home.

In other words, technology is collapsing the masks we wear, making it harder to project different versions of our identity depending on the audience.

My theory: The most natural "you" is the version that gets presented when masks collapse. For example, host a dinner party with your mom, best friend from school, your boss from work, and a woman/man you're interested in dating. How do you act? What comes most naturally?

A public blog is another experiment in voice-synthesis and mask-collapse. I write one blog and all sorts of people read it, people with whom I would customize my presentation if we met in the real world. I slightly customize my vocabulary and personality if I meet a client versus my best friend from childhood. But I write only one blog, and even if I intend for it to be read by a particular constituency, I must remember that both my boss and friend can read it. Thus, the "you" that emerges on a personal blog represents a regression-to-the-mean synthesis, which may represent the most natural version of yourself.

(thanks to Stan James for helping generate this theory)

16 Responses to Most Natural “You” Emerges When Masks Collapse

  1. Mark says:

    …or it might not represent the most natural version of yourself, as you need to a lot more constrained and careful in both your choice of topics and the way you approach them.

    This is one of the reasons I stopped blogging. If you’re blogging about a non-personal topic (eg. technology), it’s much easier, but once you start keeping a personal blog out in the open, it takes a lot of effort to stay neutral, and there’s always the risk of pissing off the wrong person.

    It’s not worth jeopardizing job opportunities or other relationships by having the ‘wrong’ people reading your blog.

  2. Josh says:

    Just got to say I really like this post. The dinner party hypothetical is great.

  3. Joe says:

    At the hypothetical dinner party I would probably be more reserved than I would in any other setting. I would not discus anything deeply technical with my boss to avoid boring the others, I would not joke around with my friend to avoid alienating the others, I would not discuss family with my mom because it would be boring to the others, and I would not discuss anything personal with my date because I do not want my boss or my fried or my mom worrying about it in different contexts.

    Fuck external consistency? I don’t need it anyway. No one sees the everything. A lover comes the closest. But anyone who has ever earned the title lover would fall asleep during a discussion about the 6 hrs. I spent today debugging. (This has happened.)

    The mask pile up on my face, not collapse.

  4. Change says:

    Maybe the most natural “you” is the one that changes one’s behavior with the situation (like a fluid which takes the shape of the vessel).

  5. Change says:

    Also, I’d be extremely uncomfortable at that “dinner.” I was always somewhat reluctant to let my different groups of friends meet for the same reason.

  6. Lindsay says:

    It’s interesting that you use the word ‘natural’ you – it reminds me of the age-old nature vs. nurture debate. Without these people in our lives – parents, bosses, buddies, love interests – I believe we would be significantly different, both superficially and internally.

    I tend to agree with the previous comments in that at this dinner party, my personality extremes would diminish. Whether or not that reflects my most “natural” personality is another question.

    It seems to me that behavior, in any context, is the nature-dictated reaction to the environment. As experience builds, it becomes part of nature, thus influencing how we will react to future situations.

    What does that saying, “be yourself,” really mean? Don’t we have multiple selves – the self we are at a moment, the self we are moving toward, the self we want to become?

  7. Lindsay says:

    My opinion is similar to Change’s. :) I was fighting with my browser when those comments were posted.

  8. Matt H says:

    I’d agree with Joe — the more different people I need to “be someone to” at the same time, the more reserved I am. I feel most natural and expressive, and ‘myself’, when I am one-on-one with someone who I can relate well to.

  9. Ben Casnocha says:

    I agree we have multiple selves, but we are often more comfortable in
    particular ones.

  10. Factor77.tv says:

    It’s all about transparency! If you don’t want your customers, your employers or your family to know you have a drunken alter ego–cut it out.

    Even more so, the internet is a huge platform to expose anyone who does wrong. Besides, it’s way more fun to expose someone and make them out to be a bad guy than it is to praise them. Make sure you are yourself (the good one) at all times.

  11. Elliott says:

    Nice post, Ben. I struggle for the 5 minutes before I hit “publish” on my blog posts. I ask myself what’s the anticipated response from all the different people in my life now? What happens 15 years from now? Will I be embarrassed by what I wrote, and could it hurt me?

    I actually think writing the blog makes me a better person because it forces me to be honest and consistent.

    I’ll argue that your “blog voice” is not only your “natural identity”, it’s also the identity of the person you always strive to be. (At least that’s what I find for myself.)

  12. A nice thought. And Factor77’s comment is a good one.

    I think I would enjoy the dinner party, for exactly the reason Ben suggests – it would remove most of the temptation to act up to people’s expectations. Even with my partner of 7 years I am probably still a little biased in my behaviour.

    A few years ago I would have presented a very different facade with friends, clients or at home. But since then I have been more confident in what I’m up to in life and that shows through transparently in my personality. Which hopefully means I have an integrated identity, consistent across all those people.

    But the fact that I notice the difference between now and then means that I am aware there’s always further to go.

    I noticed this last week when posting a live commentary on The Apprentice to my blog ( link to knowingandmaking.com ). After it was finished, I started to worry about what all the serious economics people would think.

    Fortunately I realised how silly this was, and stopped taking it all so seriously. Everyone has a sense of humour (except that guy, you know the one).

  13. Lee says:

    (Cross-posted from Marginal Revolution.)

    Instead of considering whether the collapse of personas is “natural,” we ought to consider whether it is good.

    My Facebook profile is the intersection over all of my personas (professional, friendly, familial, and so on). Everyone agrees this is a stifling situation, and a friendly competition spurs some of the more intrepid souls on Facebook to enlarge that intersection by expanding each of their personas (professional, friendly, …) into something more eccentric, closer to the union. These people are admired. Others emulate; empathy spreads; tolerance proliferates; a compact emerges, wherein judgmental people are un-friended and treated to higher privacy settings. Humanity unfolds into something a little messier, causing John Stuart Mill to smile down on us.

  14. Lowell Hundemer says:

    Yes I am also in search of Flash tutorials, since I wish for to learn more about flash, so if you have please post it here. Hay Day Cheats

  15. Sorry, I was just going through Archives randomly and came across this. I was shocked because I’ve given this very idea a lot of thought in the past myself. Using the same terminology, “masks” and how you put on different ones depending on who you’re with. I always thought it was simply me so I never thought to blog about it.

    I fully agree with you’re conclusion that a public blog is where all of your different masks or “personas” I’d prefer to say, well maybe not clash but maybe the persona that you strive to be known for- shines through your public writing.

    Eg:

    If I want to be known as a contrarian thinker. Then I will take undisputed ideas/topics and take a devil’s advocate approach. I may not be contrarian in all areas of life, maybe only a contrarian when talking philosophical abstract thoughts. But that is what I’d like my signature trait to be.

  16. Jonth says:

    Yes I am also in search of Flash tutorials, since I wish for to learn more about flash, so if you have please post it here.

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