I have always been fascinated with social media, even ever since the time of Myspace and Friendster. Perhaps it is just me, but I’ve never been truly conscious of my online identity or the need for a separate e-persona until a friend of mine recently questioned why I had so many followers and likes on Instagram and other social networks. I was really surprised to find out that a lot of people are actually very conscious of the attention and interaction they receive from their posts. Is it just me or have people actually stopped sharing for the sake of sharing? Has our online identity really boiled down to an accumulation of likes, comments, photos, and quirky statuses?
I have come to the conclusion that we live in a time that pressures you to think that you cannot exist in this world without both a real life and an online version of yourself, and more often than not, these identities do not align. In real life, we are all about finding ourselves. In social media, we are all about finding the version of ourselves that gets the most positive feedback. You may share articles or posts that you genuinely find compelling, but you also can’t deny that you feel a weird pang of insecurity if nobody likes your post. That little weird pang truly is detrimental to how one views one’s self. If someone likes our post, we feel validated. I truly think that we should be concerned that on social media, we simply don’t trust our own judgment when it comes to our humor, our aesthetic standards, and our very selves unless someone else affirms it first.
Once something is posted, you await judgment - the retweet, the like button, the star button, the heart button, as though these buttons were capable of encapsulating your individuality. Why does the response to the post define the post? I understand that making a decision to post something on social media means making a decision to be seen. Even more so, it means making a decision to be reacted to, or not. With social media, you have time to meticulously craft the kind of person you want to be, with specific kinds of posts, photos, and likes that are constantly updated in all your news feeds. The truth, however, is you don’t have nearly as much time to piece together a staggeringly brilliant thought when you’re having a conversation in real life, and you certainly can’t Xpro or Vscocam your way to beauty at a social gathering.
I truly hope that those of us beholden to the idea of online self-worth and the necessity of a social media self will fade away very soon. I hope people stop feeling like we have to qualify how awesome we are by whether we’re trending or have gone viral, or not. Constantly performing for an audience is exhausting. I’ve said this before, and I will say it again – self-preservation is more important than e-etiquette. All this need to pacify your online identity at the expense your real identity, all this time wasted on evaluating your digital practices at the expense of your happiness and fulfillment, and this drastic need to control your relationship with social media at the expense of actual living – it isn’t worth it.
I suppose I have not really contemplated this in the past because I am surrounded by individuals who really aren’t affected by these made-up pressures of social media. My sister posts (in bulk!) the wackiest videos of her singing to pop songs and keeping up with the rap verses of circa 90s Warren G; a good friend’s Facebook timeline consists of what I call a mini-story book of her everyday adventures with her two dynamic sons; my trainer shares the most empowering fitness tips, but also the most endearing stories of her family life; another dear friend utilizes her Instagram account to perfect and tastefully filter her work as a makeup artist; my mom shares anything and everything on various social networks. The point is these people don’t restrict or overthink how they operate on the internet, and there is no separation between the real and online self. They don’t feel anxious about sharing too much or being inactive at certain prolonged periods of time. And this liberation is what I wish for all of us.
We owe it to ourselves to remain open and organic, and we can’t do that if we’re beholden to the demands of social media to determine how significant our real-life experiences are or how momentous our uniqueness is. We have to be confident with our choices, comfortable with our nature, and resilient with our core values. We all have our own reasons for being a part of social media platforms but we have to protect our individuality by accepting our unfiltered identity. We have to trust that the people who truly matter to us will not judge us for being ourselves. And even more importantly, we have to empower ourselves to stay authentic.