In the age of the internet it seems as though there’s nothing that doesn’t get put online. Ultrasound photos, obituaries, dance videos, fanfiction, blog posts, selfies (so many selfies), love notes, sex tapes, death threats, music, and so much more. And all of it, they tell you, all of it lasts forever. When those ultrasound photos get uploaded and baby names get announced children have their digital footprints started without their consent before they are even born. What do we do with that, as a society? All those pictures, words, and sound bites that we upload into the world wide web, even if we individually lose the links, the popular wisdom says that it’s all still there.
What sort of age is this? Where we can have versions of ourselves that exist outside of ourselves, living online long after we are gone and before we even exist? Where whole identities can be crafted, worlds can be built around people that aren’t even “real.” Because what does that even mean anymore?
I know so many people who act entirely differently “IRL” from the way that they do online. Who say things one way when they are interacting through a screen and another when I see them in the flesh. And it’s not a matter of acting. It’s not as though any of these people have been hired or are going for an Emmy because of their online performance. It’s just because the way that one interacts with people through a screen is so incredibly different from the way that one interacts face to face.
The personae that people put on when they are interacting online is most often found among influencers, who often have to toe the line between keeping their “brand” authentic, but also living lives that remain private and their own. This has become something of a hot topic in recent years.
But this is also something that everyday people struggle with as well. How vulnerable to be on social media is a real question for many people, especially those of us with public Instagram accounts. I certainly don’t know who all of my followers are, and therefore I do not tend to post anything on my account that is particularly vulnerable
The world has made me harder than I want to be, and I have to put up barriers that I wish didn’t need to be there. But we all must protect our peace in our own ways, because not everyone is a friend, although I wish the world were as kind as I want it to be.
So yes, I admit, my timeline is curated. I hide the many parts of myself that I do not wish the world to see. People may assume that it is simply that I do not wish everyone to see the types of skeletons we all hold in our closets, the uglier sides of ourselves. But that’s not the entire truth. Some parts of ourselves are just private. They’re things not meant to be shared widely. No one is owed visible evidence of grief, or of joy. Of pain, of turmoil, physical and mental. The crushing weight of depression, anxiety, and isolation are not things that the public wants to see anyway. So I smile, take a selfie, come up with a caption, and upload.