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This article was published on January 28, 2010

Ow, My Head! Handling Real Life vs. Online Presence

Ow, My Head! Handling Real Life vs. Online Presence

Wisdom of the Ancients

Humans are social beings. We maintain relationships constantly — with friends, family, a spouse, colleagues. But what about an online presence? We maintain relationships there too, sometimes with those people we know in real life, but for many of us we maintain much more than that online.

It is said that we can only maintain 150 friendships at one time, and that includes our online selves — Facebook friends, Twitter followers and what have you. But what if we have more than 150? Well, it seems that the core of our interaction hovers around the 150 mark, no matter what. It makes sense, really. The human brain can only process a limited amount.

No matter if we have 150 or 15,000 friendships online, we have to wrap our heads around it either way. For me at least, the information and interaction can reach a critical mass headache some days and it causes me to pause and wonder how my online friendships can do this to me.

The main difference lies within how we project our core self — our identity — in real life versus online.

Real Life

We are trained from birth to interact with the world around us and the people in it. Our culture shapes us, and teaches us the unsaid rules we constrain to every day in order to be a productive and social member of society.

When we meet someone in person, we can gather so much information about the interaction just by being there. Body language and tone of voice make a huge difference when speaking to someone face-to-face, compared to a purely textual relationship online.

You are who you are in real life through many factors — your personality traits, preferences, health, family, culture — and the people in your circle know these things. You can change your job, but they’d know it’s still you.


Social media and networking doesn’t really have that ingrained, unsaid ruleset like real life does. At least not in the same way.

You are who you say you are. What’s in your Twitter bio and what sorts of tweets do you send out? What’s listed on your Linkedin page? You control what people see, and how they see you down to the last pixel in your profile picture.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this of course. You can get your message out however you’d like. You can brand yourself. You can build your audience. A disadvantage, in a way, is the consistency you have to maintain — that isn’t necessary in real life.

For some this can be taxing, and sometimes we slip up and take action out of the confines of the identity that’s created. Your audience builds trust through what you put out there, and something as simple as changing up what you send out in your Twitter stream can send people running.

Who is this person, have they been compromised? Are they still worth following? People can be skittish online, but for good reason. It’s all about finding that ideal balance for both you and your audience.

Information Overload

Even if managing your online identity isn’t as extreme, maintaining an online presence can still be stressful. How can you combat the stress, and how can you improve your experience?

  • Unplug every once in a while. Get outside, get a drink, whatever. You’ll thank yourself later, the networks will still be there, and you’ll be able to catch up in no time.
  • Organize your workspace. It might seem trivial, but it’s so much easier to be productive when things are in order around you.
  • Make an objective. Why are you doing what you’re doing online? Why participate?
  • Get the right tools. Apps like TweetDeck are here to help you tune down the noise and filter what’s valuable to you.
  • Set a time. It’s tempting to be immersed in your networks all day, but it might be best for you to make a set time for that email inbox and those @replies.

Socializing isn’t anything new, but doing so online — in this real time age — is. The ideas surrounding how you express yourself and your identity are different between real life and online, but the basics of being a good person aren’t. You will get far with giving more than you take, but hey — don’t forget to take a break every once in a while.

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