The Reality of Putting Ourselves Online

This is the first personal blog I’ve written in a very long time. And the reason has to do with the love/hate relationship I’ve begun to experience with social media. Over the past year or so each post I’ve read or initiated on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter (I’m way behind on any other form!) has given me a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. This might sound strange, and possibly hypocritical, from someone who has been an avid Facebooker for the past decade. And it’s true. I used to relish my time online, searching for images and updates about old friends, leaving funny remarks on people’s “walls.” It actually did make me feel connected to others. But on a deeper level, it was disconnecting me from myself.

The search for authenticity is something I’ve devoted my life to. Like most people, I’ve spent most of my time on the planet trying to stay connected with the idea of who I really am. But it was three years ago after nearly losing my husband to a severe traumatic brain injury that I realized just how critical authenticity is to our well-beings. If we are not fully, actively engaged in the process of knowing, understanding, and making clear to the world who we are at our core, then I’d argue we aren’t pursuing an authentic life.

Who I am has changed immeasurably since my husband was injured. Witnessing him become a different person forced me into a different person as well, one with a much larger color palette to choose from. While once I could only envision one path or journey for my life, I now see infinite options. While once I viewed my opponents as mean, narrow-minded, or selfish, I now see a much broader range of emotions and experiences — ones that often point to me as the offender.

Life is much more complicated and varietal than I ever could have imagined and yet the personas we often project on social media paint us as flat and one-dimensional as the screen we’re reading. So why is this? Why are we so often driven to show our prettiest, most seemingly impressive selves? And furthermore, why do we feel compelled to share at all?

I have a lot of questions and not so many answers, but at the root of this issue is what I consider to be our culture’s crisis of authenticity. With the web, Pinterest, and the insane amount of photo sharing happening each day, we have so many mediums to borrow from in creating our self-view. All of this noise makes it incredibly difficult to tell ourselves apart from others, something I struggle with myself. I’m as guilty of anyone of trying to emulate lifestyles, looks, and experiences that I’ve seen online. The problem is that it always feels like I’m playing dress-up in someone else’s closet (which I pretty much am).

I have to wonder: it is possible to navigate this virtual world while staying true to our authentic selves? Can I share the pretty, ugly, and just downright weird with friends, and possibly strangers, and be OK with the fact that I cannot control their perceptions of me?

As a writer who would like to support myself through my writing, I am finding this especially hard. The publishing world tells me to grab onto as many followers as I can and lambast them with messages and posts until that number of followers multiplies and multiplies again. But I hate this method of self-promotion. Not only does it encourage me to treat living, thinking people as numbers, it forces me to exploit myself by putting out material I may not care deeply about. And listen, I love to read articles and writing online, but there have been perhaps a handful of pieces in my life that I’d sincerely and enthusiastically encourage someone else to read (my own writing included at times).

So, I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t want to play this game anymore, at least not the way I see it being played these days. I don’t want to ogle your family vacation photos because I don’t believe envy is healthy. And I don’t want to sell you something any more than I want to buy something from you either (listen up, salespeople friends!). I just want to connect with you — authentically. I want to know who you are, how you are (because I know you’re more than just a proud parent or a pissed off Starbucks patron), and I want you to know me — the good, the bad, and the super weird.

I want to believe it’s possible that we can have these experiences online and I’d love to believe I’m not the only one out there craving a more meaningful experience. So, I guess what I’m asking is, are you out there? Are you interested? Are you ready to get weird with me?