Get Real: Authenticity in the Artificial Age

The other night I was hanging out on TweetDiner, an excellent Twitter chat hosted by Margie Clayman (@margieclayman) and Stanford Smith, aka @pushingsocial. On this particular evening, the regular hosts were off for the night and stand-ins Ian Rountree (@ianmrountree) and Jeannette Baer (@myagenda) were running the show.

The topic for the night was authenticity and transparency, which generated some heated debate and got me thinking about the meaning – or even the possibility – of being authentic.
(Ian wrote a great summary of the TweetDiner session. Read it at

Are You Authentic?

When was the last time you met someone who admitted being “fake”? It’s a common accusation among the middle-school set, and one that sneaks up in adult life as well. When it’s hurled at us, it stings. “Am not!” you scream (maybe just in your head). We all like to think we’re being the real us, all of the time. But are we?

I made the comment on the chat that “I think if you have to work hard to be authentic, you’re probably not.” I stand by that statement, but I also believe that sometimes, we’re inauthentic without meaning to be. Just look at the world we live in and ask yourself, “How is it even possible to be authentic?”

Welcome to the Artificial Age

Long before the day internet crawled into our pockets on a smartphone, we were well on our way down the path of hiding our real selves. From artificial Christmas trees to artificial limbs, we celebrate advances in technology that make our lives “better.”

  • We live on artificial sweeteners, artificial flavors and artificial preservatives.
  • We decorate our homes and offices with artificial plants.
  • We wear pleather instead of leather (if you’re into that kind of thing).
  • We disguise our natural selves with make-up and hair dye and wrinkle serum.
  • When all else fails, we resort to plastic surgery…or another miracle invention, Spanx.

So how do we even know what the real thing is?

How to Be Real

Is being real or authentic online being the best, ideal you? Or is it more about being you, warts and all? If you want to put your best foot forward, are you inauthentic, or just optimistic? Is it wrong to use the internet to create a persona for yourself in the hopes that people will see you for who you want to be?

As I’ve debated this notion between my real self and my best self, I’ve reached this conclusion: Being authentic online means being you. If that’s someone who cares to keep up appearances and is never seen in public without a hair out of place, feel free to be the same online. If you’re more like me and tend to trip on your shoelaces from time to time, let it show.

Being authentic doesn’t mean you have to expose every vice. Share what you’re comfortable with so people know you’re human, but keep in mind that too much sharing can be as bad as hiding something. Both will backfire.

Finally, remember the Wizard of Oz. Hide your real self, and sooner or later the truth will be discovered. When it is, you’ll lose whatever credibility you thought you had, and that’s not worth the risk.

If you have to stop and think, “Is this me?” it probably isn’t.

What do you think?

Image by: Le fay

  1. Excellent stuff, Joellyn. Glad to hear the discussion was enjoyed!

    People love to be modified. It goes beyond authenticity, I think – even more pedestrian enhancements such as caffeine or alcohol. We love being in a state we can control.

    The hiccup caused by “Is this me” is an important one. I think we ought to ask it more often – even (and perhaps especially) when we’re certain of our motivations.

    1. Thanks, Ian. Great point about being in a “modified” state. I guess it’s natural to try to control our environment and how others see us in order to be or feel our best.

  2. Great post Joellyn, you bring up good points, making us question our authenticity.
    We do live in an artificial age and social media platforms sometimes can serve a shields for people that otherwise are very quiet, reserved or shy in IRL.
    It allows people to to feel a bit of confidence, and they feel comfortable enough to engage without reveling the true personalities. But my question is; Is it only them? or do we all slightly drift from our ‘true selves’ – If people can surprise us IRL, why wouldn’t they in Twitter? Even though we can’t change that, it is important that we have that conversation, that we encourage people to be true and transparent and like you said: Just be you!

    Maya Angelou said it best, when she said: “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

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