A few weeks ago I wrote about the perils of living your life on Instagram and becoming a piece of content for others to look at. That idea may have seemed far-fetched, esoteric, or just out of step with the times. After all, even us geezers have online selves, right?
Well, at least one person agrees with me, though I’m pretty sure she didn’t read my post. Her name is Clara Dollar, she’s a senior at New York University, and she writes in the Sunday New York Times about “My So-Called (Instagram) Life.”
“Once you master what is essentially an onstage performance of yourself, it can be hard to break character,” she says. True dat.* Her obsession with staying on brand – “funny, carefree, unromantic, a realist” – kills a relationship and buries her genuine identity. “There was a time when I allowed myself to be more than what I could fit onto a 2-by-4-inch screen. When I wasn’t so self-conscious about how I was seen. When I embraced my contradictions and desires with less fear of embarrassment or rejection.”
When I was in college in the 1970s, we couldn’t live on little screens because they didn’t exist. More importantly, we’d just come out of the 60s, when mindless conformity was exposed as a fraud. Challenging authority, openness, and authenticity were virtues.
The “brand” I’d acquired in high school was a burden: quiet, reserved, a little awkward, certainly not cool. But the only way for me to look different was to be different: embrace change, be open to new things, and put my true self out there.
Of course I feared embarrassment and rejection. Who doesn’t? Being yourself is the only way to make good friends, the kind who see beyond each other’s contradictions and foibles. Many people I knew then are Facebook friends now, with a connection that’s grounded in real life and memories, not a bogus image.
I don’t claim to be devoid of ego. I always try to put my best foot forward (especially because, as anyone who’s ever danced with me will tell you, I’ve got two of the left variety).
But my virtual self is no more calculated or contrived than my real one, which I hope is not much. For example, I won’t try to persuade you I have gorgeous blue eyes that remind you of Paul Newman. Of course, you can always look at my photo and draw your own conclusions.
*A New Orleans expression for “That is the truth.”