Who Are You Really? Personal Photographs Vs. Anonymous Images In Social Media Profiles

It’s been four years since social media and I hooked up. Truth be told, we would have remained strangers were it not for my foray into writing. But now that I’m here, I’ve enjoyed my time. No small talk. No eye contact. No mingling over cocktails.

It’s an introvert’s communication dream.

Introverted flower 2

Spotted during a conference break while I was walking alone outside instead of mingling with the other attendees. So fitting.

So lately I’ve been thinking about the connections I’ve made and the people whose updates I look forward to seeing, whether via blog, Twitter, or elsewhere. With some folks I even exchange emails or direct messages, and with each interaction I get to know them better.

But I think for many of us, it’s easier to reach that level of comfort with people whose faces we’ve seen. People who use personal photographs for their profile pictures (or on their websites) as opposed to images of animals, cartoons, or some other avatar.  With a genuine face, we can imagine them happy or sad, angry or delighted, tired or full of energy. Even if it is just a two-dimensional image.

But when our only optic is a cat, or a logo, or a cartoon image, that visualization is lost, and our connection becomes more nebulous. At least initially. Perhaps over time, the greater the interaction, the less of an issue it becomes.

But I still find myself asking if people are who they say they are. Are you really a woman? A man? An alien? Do you have brown hair or pink? Are you young or more seasoned? Do you wear glasses? Do laugh lines light up your face, or do you introvert scowl like me?

Original image from Bing image search/public domain

Original image from Bing image search/public domain

Of course, some people want to remain anonymous online. That’s cool. But when I finally spot a glimpse of them somewhere along the way, it’s always a special treat. I say, “Ah, so that’s who you are!”

Let’s face it. Humans are attracted to human faces. I don’t mean in a pretty or handsome sense; I mean in a natural human curiosity sense. Whether in person or online, we like to know who we’re talking to. As cute as a person’s cat may be, or as cool as a logo may look, that lack of “face-to-face” recognition is a bit of a black hole. As a result, it might take longer to reach an emotional connection.

Luckily, we can still get there. I have some great online friends whose faces I’ve never seen.

But I gotta admit, I’m always wondering who’s hiding behind the curtain…

Do you find it easier to connect online when you know what your contact looks like?

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Rubin4Carrie Rubin is the author of The Seneca Scourge and the upcoming Eating Bull. For full bio, click here.

308 Responses to “Who Are You Really? Personal Photographs Vs. Anonymous Images In Social Media Profiles”

  1. Claremary P. Sweeney

    For me, it’s the writing that personalizes people and there are many personalities out there on social media. I’ve had wonderful “conversations” with bloggers and they all began because of something in their writing style that connected with me. I am abysmal with sewing, crafts, cooking, drawing, and so much more, but have enjoyed reading about the people who share their love of these things through blogging. I recently found that one of my favorite people had begun to share her recipes on YouTube. I was so happy to actually see her and hear her voice in my own kitchen as I tried to follow her recipe directions. So, I do appreciate actual pictures of people, but it’s their words that first attract me to them, even though their avatar may be an inanimate object.

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  2. Gail Kaufman

    Sometimes seeing a face is a distraction. Think of watching a movie versus reading a book. I don’t have to see a face to feel connected or moved by the characters of a good book and sometimes it’s more fun to use my imagination versus having faces jump out from the screen. One of the great things about blog buddies is that your connection is based on commonalities through writing without the prejudice of appearance or age.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      I agree–that commonality that connects us is nice. But for me personally it takes longer to reach that connection when I don’t know who’s really behind the curtain. (Not that a picture guarantees that either…)

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      • Gail Kaufman

        We really don’t know. It’s not like people keep their photos up-to-date. But at least you know what they looked like at one time in their life 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Shel Harrington

    I never thought about it before, but (now that you mention it) I can only think of of one individual that I have formed a blog-friendship with that doesn’t have a photo-icon. And even that one is a cartoon of what I assume is her. Of course, we’ll never know if the pictures put out there really are the person either – but it feels more genuine!

    Had to chuckle at your comment about your fairly recent on-line presence. You beat me by mere months and our motivation was the same. A few years back I was actually prideful about “never having been on Facebook” unless it was for evidence-seeking purposes. I only saw the negative side of its use. I was pleasantly surprised to find a more positive side. I’ve come to enjoy expanding my connections and having an outlet for humor (Fat-Bottom-Fifties Get Fierce) and, more recently, praise with a faith-page called “Oh, For the Love of God!” But now I have to be careful to not let the social media interaction take over my writing time – an ongoing struggle for me to find the balance.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      I used to take pride in being invisible on the Internet too. If I wasn’t doing what I’m doing, I’d probably still be invisible. But there are many rewards to the online interaction, so it’s nice to take the plunge. But yes, if we’re not careful, it can take over the writing time!

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  4. Kourtney Heintz

    I think it’s much easier to connect when you have an idea of what a person looks like. It feels more genuine. When I’m talking to someone with a cat or celeb avatar, I can’t help wondering what they are hiding. I feel a little more suspicious and it takes a lot more positive interactions to overcome that.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      It does take more interactions before we’re comfortable, doesn’t it? Strange what just one little personal picture can do toward bridging that gap.

      By the way, I’m reading The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts and really enjoying it. Given my pragmatism, I’m pretty sure those unbelievables would leave me be. 😉

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  5. Dan Alatorre AUTHOR

    It’s odd to try to talk to a swirly green icon, but as long as the keep up their end of the conversation…

    A fellow author tell me to remove my book cover from my image because people don’t want to talk to a book. She said that’s what ugly people do and you’re good looking. I immediately thought she was hitting on me, but now I wonder just how ugly the green swirly icon dude is.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      I think that’s a good point about not using our book image as our profile pic or Gravatar image. People probably do want to talk to a person not a book. 🙂

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  6. currentlylovingsimplicity

    This is such an interesting dilemma. I find myself clicking more on profiles with a personal picture, but I myself would rather not share my face online. At least not yet.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Yes, it takes some time to get comfortable with it, doesn’t it? When I first started blogging, I used an image of something other than me (though I did have a picture on my About Me page). But I eventually shifted over, probably after my first book came out. I’m still not completely comfortable with it, but it is what it is, I guess. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

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  7. Celine Jeanjean

    Definitely prefer seeing people’s faces. Then it feels like I have a better grasp of who they are, I feel I know them better. But I can understand why some people might prefer something a bit more private. At the same time, I think it’s a good thing for the internet not to be too private. It means people then have to stand behind what they say. If your name and photo is out for all to see, you can’t just go around saying or doing anything without consideration of the consequences, or of people’s feelings. Anonymity seems to have a way of bringing out the bad in people which is a little saddening.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Yes, I’m always amazed at how some people let anonymity free them up to say things they never would face to face. I agree that by identifying ourselves on social media, we’re more mindful of what we say. But I understand that some people need to remain anonymous. I’ve got some good online buds I’ve never seen. Yet, anyway. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Bruce Thiesen

    Carrie – The photo of you and your white flower made me chuckle.

    I am happy that you and social media are figuring out how to get along. Otherwise, how would we have met such an introvert as you? Your agreeing to give social media a try was the right transition. The Right Write Transition, if you will.

    As for the privacy, well…

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Thanks, Bruce. Kind of you to say! Were it not for my writing, I doubt I’d have opened any social media accounts. But now that I’m here, I see how perfectly suited it is for an introvert. And pretty fascinating to communicate with people all over the world too. But yes, the privacy thing is a worry. I think there’s little of it left for any of us. That’s why we have to be so careful what we put out there. Luckily the younger generation is starting to see that as well.

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  9. hilarycustancegreen

    Absolutely, I feel much more comfortable addressing a person than a pattern or a cat. I can understand people who want to keep their privacy, but I think it is probably too late for most of us now, anyway.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      That’s what I’ve heard–that it’s difficult to maintain your privacy and anonymity online. If someone really wants to find out who you are, they can. That’s a sobering thought.

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