Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Second lives

As a late adopter of Facebook, one of the things that I was most amused by once I finally jumped in and took a look around was the specific way in which people presented themselves professionally. By which I mean a certain subset of people did not necessarily list their day job as their job in their official profile, which stood out to me and continues, even a year-plus later, to catch my attention on a fairly regular basis.

I mean, on the one hand, I left my place of employment blank on my FB profile. Mostly I did those because I'm vaguely aware that my employer has Certain Rules about social media expectations, independent of the whole nature of my specific work with classified government systems, and it just felt safer, overall, to decline to name my employer at all, and thus have a fair amount of plausible deniability and built-in distance from any accusations of associating myself with the company's good name and reflecting poorly on its corporate values blah blah blah retch hurl. I'm reasonably certain that a lot of my other friends find themselves in similar circumstances and arrived at similar conclusions. I don't really post about my job, either, except the most anodyne tales from cubicle-land, because of course as you all know I save the juicy stuff for the more anonymous confines of this blog.

So when someone hovers over my profile picture or whatever it gives my name and the name of the college I went to, which is apparently the fallback default when you leave your employer blank, and that's fine by me. In fact, since Facebook started out as a service for college students and that's the time in one's life when one is supposed to engage in all sorts of questionable behavior and entertain all sorts of good and bad ideas, it seems apt.

What I've noticed, though, is that many friends of mine have chosen a third option to the dilemma. They haven't listed their employer in their profile, but they haven't left the field empty either. What I should more accurately say is that they haven't listed their primary employer, their day gig to pay the bills. They have instead listed some variation on their dream job, particularly if they pursue some kind of hobby or side-business directly related to the dream.

Thus my one friend who listed himself as employed by a microbrewery, despite being an IT guy in a corporate office. Or my other friend who listed himself as a writer, despite being a financial planner. Or my other, other friend who listed himself as a musician, despite being a ... ok, actually, I don't know what that guy does for a living because he's a high school acquaintance I had lost touch with and was never that close with but in any case, I'm reasonably certain he's not supporting himself playing weekend acoustic gigs at local bars.

Of course that's at least a small part of the overall inherent humor. In order to even be aware of these tiny elements of these people's Facebook profiles I have to have a pre-existing relationship with these folks, which means I (probably) know where they punch the clock 9-to-5 and I (probably again) know what they have a real passion for and ultimately I know how much or how little overlap there is there. Sadly, it's not very much, and by that I don't mean these people are sad I just mean its sad we're not all living in a post-scarcity, follow-your-bliss utopia.

So with that much foreknowledge these people are not fooling me. In all likelihood they are not fooling anyone, and I don't even really think that fooling people is the point. It's just basic self-promotion, which is completely understandable. My friend who volunteers for the brewery at tastings and whatnot really does have enough love in his heart for the product to have a complimentary vested interest in the success or failure of said brewery, and so he wants to get the word out there in every possible way. And similarly, my friends who write novels or play in a band may not get rich off those endeavors but they still want to reach as wide an audience as possible, and if they have a public-facing platform like Facebook they might as well make the most of it and exploit the free visibility. Plus as I alluded to earlier, this way they're dodging any potential human resources grief at their day job by not bringing them into their online world at all (and obviously the giant financial services firms and whatnot don't really need the minuscule extra boost of an employee's FB page acknowledging them, anyway).

But on another level, it reminds me very specifically of the episode of The (U.S.) Office where Jim and Pam find out that Dwight has a Second Life account and Jim joins so that he can cyberstalk Dwight and report back. The big joke that everyone probably remembers (and if not I am providing a screencap above that captures the essence of it) is that Dwight's avatar was basically exactly like Dwight, down to his workaday fashion choices, except in Second Life he can fly. What I remember even more vividly, though, is that at one point Pam asks Jim if she can see his avatar, and first he tries to blow her off but eventually she gets her way and finds that Jim has put a certain amount of effort into its fabrication, not only giving him cool threads and an electric guitar slung insouciantly across his back but listing his occupation as "sports journalist". And Jim continues to try to play this off as dumb messing around but there's a layer underneath that where he's embarrassed to admit (to Pam and to himself) that this is his ideal version of himself, a persona he'd like to inhabit if he didn't have bills to pay and if he'd had the courage, talent and luck all necessary to throw himself heedlessly into his own dreams and make himself a success in the process.

So, believe me, I get that, the gulf between where we find ourselves IRL with our mortgages and credit card bills and daycare costs and where we can imagine ourselves in a fantasy-fueled take on our lives. And once you recognize that disparity, you know, why not just go ahead and indulge the fantasy in some harmless peripheral way like the job data point on a Facebook profile? Obviously I'm in the very same boat as these friends of mine; I write for fun and because I love it and occasionally I try to get attention for it, even while I remain otherwise gainfully employed because I never went in for the starving artist lifestyle and I've grown accustomed to a certain level of creature comforts as a result of the so-called "selling out" (which, it should be noted, I committed to for my own sake and on my own terms long before I started my family, and my wife and kids give me all the more reason to keep the books in the black and are, themselves, absolutely ideal, and I wouldn't change a thing about any of them in any world real or virtual). The major difference is that I, apparently, will barely acknowledge in public forum my nebulous aspirations toward writing as a career, or as anything else other than an idle diversion. With the question put to me directly, I punt, whereas some of my friends take the possibility and just run with it. And I'm amused, but very much in a "Huh. That looks like fun. Good on them." kind of way.

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