Right off the bat, I’m going to say that if Facebook were a phone booth, I’d be both Clark Kent and Superman. Aside from the fact that I am super strong and can stop bullets in mid-flight, I also look great in glasses.
In reality, I’m an average guy with an average Facebook page. It’s a shocker, I know, but I can’t stop bullets, and I have spent years getting over my insecurity with wearing spectacles.
To parallel the doldrums of my daily life, my personal Facebook page has about as much excitement to it as a zebra with stripes. If I were trolling Facebook, I’d make fun of me. Check out these riveting status updates from the past:
The wife and I went to a friend’s house for drinks. Good times.
The new Batman didn’t quite live up to the hype.
Broccoli makes our house smell bad.
When I look at these status updates, I receive very few comments. I get the occasional thumbs up from a family member or an old high school acquaintance, but that’s it. I don’t really expect a lot of comments, either. I mean, who cares if I “just went to the gym J” or if I’m “having a bad hair day L.” My best status update ever was when I published my Kindle novel this summer. Fifteen people gave me a thumbs up, and ten people made comments to make it a paperback because they did not have a kindle. I was actually annoyed that the number of friends on my page who actually made a comment wasn’t even ten percent of the 172 people who have friended me over the years. Aside from immediate family members and a couple of work colleagues, my Facebook friends are barely friends at all; most are acquaintances from high school or college. In real life, I probably interact with the same 10% who commented on my book announcement.
By the way, I have had a normal Facebook page since 2008. This normal page is my Clark Kent identity.
Now, my wife and I share another page called Conversate is not a word and other abuses of the English Language, where we pretend to be a couple of grammar authoritarians who we have dubbed Mr. and Mrs. C (for conversate). We started this page in April of 2012 as a way to vent our frustrations with the word conversate. After the first few days, we started adding all sorts of grammar gaffes we found on the internet. After April we had about 35 fans. My wife, whose training is in library science, thought literacy should be an important topic, and she started adding articles for people to read and discuss.
By June, we had 500 fans and thought “Wow, we don’t have this many fans on our real pages.”
As the summer heat started cooking all but the California coastline, my wife decided to add themes to our page. She has a writer’s forum called Blogger Tuesday, where anyone with a blog can come and post a link to cull some new readership; she has Super Kid Sundays, where parents can post artwork, writings, or any kind of kudos about their youngin’s accolades; in August, she decided to have an Autism Awareness day for people to share their experiences with autism and hopefully increase public awareness about this condition; she posts debatable topics to foster discussion (and sometimes they result in lots of snarky remarks by page fans). My wife interacts with most of these people. She chats with them; they send emails back and forth; they share personal stories like real friends do. She even protects the fan-base by banning some of the really disrespectful followers who can never say anything nice at all. The Facebook version of her does what a real friend should do. Her Facebook persona sticks up for her Facebook friends.
When August ended, we had 3412 fans; with September halfway done, we have 6172 fans, adding about 650 a week on average, and we see no signs of slowing. This page is my Superman. It’s my wife’s Wonder Woman.
These alter egos raise the question: why have a dichotomous identity on Facebook? Many people have pages that differ from their real selves, and I think the answer as to why this dichotomy exists is simpler than one might think. It’s a simple matter of validation.
As Mr. C, I am a pseudo-authority on the subject of grammar. This is not a far cry from my real life, as I teach English, but no one listens to his or her teacher when it comes to correcting language. People do, however, listen to the advice of a stranger who claims to be an expert. This observation is a strange irony, but it has held true (By the way, I teach English composition, I have worked as a freelance editor for years, and I have a degree in professional writing, so my claim as an expert is somewhat valid).
For me, being Mr. C allows me to dish out advice about stuff I know and understand at an expert level, and I get some satisfaction and respect from helping others. This role caters to my ego. As Mr. C, I don’t have students who ignore my advice, nor do I have an editor calling me out on my lapses in verb tense. Some fans even engage in discussions about grammar minutiae. Could anything be more fun?
Being Mr. C gives me just a bit more meaning than my regular life does. Not all the time, mind you, but enough to make doling out the advice an interesting chore. This fake identity can be addicting. Just ask my wife, who gets very absorbed in her role as Mrs. C. She really does care about her fans; she talks to me about the ongoings of her page; she brags when she has defended the honor of a longtime fan who might have been verbally abused for expressing a contrary opinion. She’s very endearing like this. This is a far cry from her real life, where she has been struggling through an internship, in hopes of finding a real job in the library and information sciences. Being Mrs. C keeps her busy—and sane.
Even for people without an alter ego page, Facebook provides similar validation. My brother has over 400 friends on his personal Facebook page. His comments are rarely more than bland. Here’s a few recent status updates of his:
- Going to work at the music store today. Time for this muscle man to be a trooper.
- Time management was out the window. Somehow I will get what I need to complete for class finished as well as other art related demands.
- FB asks me what's on my mind? I have to say Pure Energy.
- Done with homework for the night. Time to sleep. Long day ahead. :)
It’s riveting stuff, I know, but every time he posts one of these tidbits of sleepy melodrama, he gets a few people to click on the like button, or he gets someone to say something that makes him feel better. His personal page is his alter ego, because it is different than his real life. In the real world, life has not been too kind to my brother. He has not had consistent full time work for at least five years, he lost his independence and lives with my father, and he has had to go back to school and retrain. It’s a tough road for him. In real life, he has a handful of friends he sees on a regular basis, and they don’t always say they like what he’s doing or even tell him that everything will be okay, even if they think this is true. On Facebook, though, he can write what he’s up to, and people can like it, comment about it, support him, and he feels good for it. If he dislikes what a friend posts, he can hide the comment or even ban the messenger. Again, it’s about validation.
For those of us on Facebook with alter egos (and that is all of us in some way, shape, or form), we have to remember real life passes by every second we spend in front of the computer. As I type this, I could have been spending time with my wife or my son, or hanging out with friends, or grading papers, or reading a good book. Those things don’t always provide the instant validation that Facebook capably provides at the click of a button. Those things in the real world require us to earn the validation. They require face time, listening, and emotional investment. Those things do not have a like button.
I wish I could be Superman all of the time, fighting poor apostrophe use with the swipe of a red pen; taking out the incorrect possessive it’s on some poorly written meme with a swift eraser, crossing out the to/too/two and their/there/they’re conundrums in a fell swoop of my correction tape. Look up in the sky. It’s a Sharpie, it’s a Bic—no it’s Mr. Conversate! But that would be ridiculous.
I had to take a break from being Mr. C last Friday. My real life required some validation from me. So, two friends from my work came over, along with their wives, and we barbecued chicken and ribs, and I enjoyed company in real time instead of the digital world to which I so often defer. Not once did I make a correction in grammar. Not once did I think about making a meme mocking someone’s misuse of your/you’re. For a moment, I enjoyed being Clark Kent—despite my glasses.