“What’s on your mind?” Facebook asks me. It’s prompting me, tempting me to spill my thoughts–whatever they may be–onto its stalker-friendly pages. I do as prompted, adding “is prancing in Lansing” behind my bolded name. I hit the beckoning, blue “Share” button, and silently, my half-hearted attempt at a factual-yet-witty status is gone, flooding my friends’ respective “news feeds.”
I won’t be so bold as to call my uninspiring update a masterful rhetorical achievement–at least not in the Aristotelian, for-the-good-of-the-polis sense–but, I can’t deny the rhetorical choices that do go into even my four-word phrase mentioned above. This may seem like a stretch, but let me stress that, perhaps unusually, I devote quite a bit of time to crafting my statuses. While most people focus on the minutia of their upcoming days while idly shampooing their hair or brushing their teeth, I find my mind slipping away–far, far away–to upcoming Facebook statuses about those very minutia.
Why this arguably narcissistic, ego-centric obsession? The way I see it, updating a Facebook status is all about building–and maintaining–one’s ethos. What am I saying (or, more nearly, what am I trying to say) about myself, about my “credibility,” by digitally plastering “Siobhan Watson is prancing in Lansing” on Facebook for all to see? Detaching myself from, well, myself for a moment, I see this status as attempting to bolster my ethos in several ways. First, I like generally no-nonsense statuses–I like those with bases in fact best. I’m subtly telling the world that I’m not interested in wasting your time by relaying song lyrics (though, truthfully, I’ve done that before–sorry, friends!), but rather, I’d like to tell you what’s going on in my life. Which leads to my second point: If I want my “friends” to know what’s going on in my life, then, it must mean that I want to interact with them, my perceived audience. It means that I must care about at least some of them (or, more cynically, want them to perceive me as caring), and want them to care about me and my whereabouts, as well. And, beyond that, stickler for truth-and-nothing-but-the-truth though I may be, my status is trying to set-up an ethos of not just overwhelming seriousness, but a bit of jocularity and, well, personability, as well. I do still like to joke and have fun–preferably while using a rhyme or two. I’m not just building my credibility through factual information and apparent caring–I’m building it up through my apparent [attempt] at humor, as well.
Embarrassing as this is to admit–and trust me, this is more bare-faced than I typically like to be, digital or not–my Facebook status is, in many ways, a carefully crafted extension of myself. It’s the performance of myself, as I’d like others to see me, in each particular rhetorical moment that I find myself confronted with a blinking cursor and a burning desire to answer, in pithy phrases, what is on my mind.