Facebook was new when I was a sophomore in college. Back then, the only photo was your profile picture, so you wanted to pick one that made a strong statement about yourself. We proudly advertised our favorite movies, books, music, and political views on our profiles. Zuckerberg’s world was allegedly rather black and white back then; the options for your political perspective were “very conservative, conservative, moderate, liberal,” and “very liberal.”
Facebook users could create a “group,” replete with its own profile picture and the ability to invite members and appoint officers. Facebook groups were on your profile, and they could be anything from a communication hub for real-life organizations (like SGA) to something totally silly. My second most successful Facebook group was “I was peer pressured into Facebook.” I uploaded a picture of an array of illicit substances as the group’s profile picture (which seemed funny to me at the time, and I’d like to think it was the inspiration for the world’s first Facebook/crack cocaine comparison). Facebook took the picture down, and I of course re-uploaded it thinking there must have been some technical problem.
It was exciting. We were exploring a new frontier in which there was no cost to sum up your entire identity in a page and post it for everyone to see. Facebook is much more complex now, and it propagates this sense of individualism just as well as it ever did. Twitter and YouTube are very similar; they give you the chance to market your identity.
Put another way, social media services let you develop and advertise your own personal brand. Your brand is as unique as your fingerprint, and you control how much of it other people see. You can put your brand out there for others to consume; maybe they’ll love you, maybe they won’t. Maybe your brand is so outrageous that people want to show it to their friends, or maybe your brand is so normal that its forgettable. Maybe your brand is inspiring and others will mimic it.
This concept of personal brand is central to understanding proprietism in our society. Next post, I’ll expand upon the concept of personal brand.