I was watching a particularly interesting 60 Minutes special last Sunday when I realized the all-encompassing power of the web, while, ironically, trying to fix my computer to get back on to it. I learned that facial recognition software, at least according to the documentary, had advanced so much in the last decade that business only needed a clear view of one’s face for about three seconds to know where they lived, what kind of beverages, restaurants, foods, or even what movies someone “liked,” on Facebook—all for “market research.” From the same information, any determined individual could decipher anyone’s IP and by extension, their location. My digital world suddenly changing from a land of utopian commerce to one of Orwellian scope and nature, I began to question my online identity—my columns, comments, and social media accounts—and whether or not my profiles were defining me, and not the other way around.
I believe that social media is progressively making us less human and more of a number on a screen—a photo, a name, and rarely, if ever, anything more. I’m a purist. I want human interaction rather than mere connection that comes with websites like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. As an INTJ/ENTJ, however, I stumble in conversation. I’m awkward. I shrink under pressure. I find the sterile confines of the web and its endless possibilities intoxicating. Social media gives people like me an opportunity to superscore my Q rating and be what I want to be, not what I necessarily am. That being said, I find my Facebook page to be a fair reflection of my actual existence. On my wall, I posture myself as an intellectual, something I strive to be in my real life, and, despite my talkative nature, I rarely post unless I need to. My family always has an opinion on my statuses, or lack thereof. They seem surprised that I don’t post more frequently than I actually do, again due to my strong opinions on certain topics. To them, my profile appears a tad strange, though they seem to think I am perpetually happy due to the fact that I am smiling in all of my pictures from my recent trip through Europe, which certainly isn’t true. However, what I post isn’t necessarily what defines me.
I think one could learn as much about a person from what websites they use as what they actually post on them. I use Facebook because it lends itself to a clean, user-friendly experience, which might be the reason I haven’t jumped to Twitter just yet. I prefer a simple, no-frills design, which is why I like the Drudge Report, ESPN, and Grantland. Each site lays out its information efficiently—there’s no wasted space—and doesn’t toy around with gimmicks, a type of existence I hope to someday embody—informative, to the point, and accessible. I refuse to use Windows 8 or a Windows phone because both represent the opposite. They’re clunky, inefficient, and misleading. On a more personal level, I want my friends to have the same traits as my websites—another way my digital persona, or rather, the opinions within, reflect my real self. Nobody needs to feign wealth or relevancy by wearing a sweater in August, even if it is from Vineyard Vines, something which I have actually seen happens this year. It’s just not sensible, nor simple, and a seemingly intentional attempt to be more “special” than one really is. Anyone can be “relevant” with designer clothes or, in the case of a website, a slick design, but only the greats get by on their content. Simplicity, after all, is the ultimate sophistication.
Evan Ratliff’s attempt to vanish showed the impact technology has had on the world, but also indicated a shift in digital habits. People originally saw computers as tools and social media as something best left to the youth. Now, however, the digital world has singlehandedly brought lolcats, bitcoins, and “trolling” into real life. More and more frequently I see people using their electronic devices to compensate for a lack of human interaction. Over the summer, I walked through the Royal Holloway, University of London to only find all the “interaction areas” filled with college students who were staring into their phones rather than using the space as it was intended to be—Sherry Turkle’s “Flight from Conversation” is officially an international movement. Up until the 20th century, people would remove their hats upon meeting someone. In today’s world, they would remove their headphones. As I’m typing, my brother is playing the MMO game Minecraft to work with his friends on a building project rather than doing his homework or actually talking with said friends.
My digital persona is as much a part of my life as my life is part of my digital persona. I made friends online. I also made more than a few enemies. The Internet’s expansion is inevitable, as is the death of traditional privacy. It seems both the digital and physical worlds are finally beginning to eclipse, and each of us has the privilege (?) of watching it happen in real time. But as we all watch, we should occasionally take time to realize where we are all going, and look up from our devices to avoid the pitfalls not shown on the screen.