My Online Presence Is Not Me IRL
There is life to live beyond the screen.
This may be one of those lessons you have to learn, forget, and re-learn a few times until you truly get it. Before 2020, perhaps I was in a good place in my relationship with the internet — or at the very least, I was on my way to a healthier co-existence.
Then the pandemic forced us all to experience almost everything digitally whether we wanted to or not. Which I suppose in some ways wasn’t all bad for everyone. I met a lot of people still in my circles two years later.
I also almost forgot who I was when I wasn’t online. It took a lot of big life changes to drill the lesson back into my brain once more: Who you are on the internet is not the real you. It never was.
The real problem arises when we consider the people who know me exclusively through my Twitter or Instagram profiles, or my podcasts, or my writing. I’m a personality in all these places — we all are. But to some followers that version of me is a person, a person they think they know. They don’t.
You don’t know much about me, really. That’s the point. You know the basic framework of my worldview from my articles and tweets. You know some of my interests (mostly based on what I write about on public platforms). I suppose if you pay close attention or scroll far back enough on my Twitter profile you’d figure out I got married at a Star Wars convention. (No regrets.)
And on a really rough day, you might see a tweet about how annoying it is when the grocery store rearranges the dairy section. There is no faster way to send a mass of adults into a full-scale panic than moving the cottage cheese unannounced.
It wasn’t always this way, at least for me. Social media really came to form when I was a teenager, which means there was a time when my classmates and I all sort of just posted everything about ourselves, our lives, our personal afflictions — social media was new. We were invincible. Nothing could hurt us. Companies couldn’t track us. We weren’t followed by strangers then unless we allowed people we’d met online onto our friend lists.
In my case, I had, what, 100 Facebook “friends” — if that? So regardless of what I posted, it wasn’t like the whole world would suddenly know or care that my best friend told my crush I liked them and we weren’t speaking. (We don’t speak anymore.)
Even if my work didn’t warrant a much larger following now — the more people that follow me, the more likely I am to, you know, make a living as a writer, which is the only reason the numbers matter— I wouldn’t have the privilege of saying whatever I wanted in less than 280 characters. Because I represent the companies I work for? Because I’d like to keep getting hired? Sure. But also because I’m a woman with opinions, and I don’t particularly enjoy getting harassed for saying more comics should be written by women. (By far my worst tweet, because it’s the most viral thing I’ve ever written, and I regret it.)
I’d love to share my mundane thoughts on the new, inferior location of the cottage cheese at my local Wegmans. Oh, the number of draft tweets I have saved about the dumb things my dog does, and the endless perils of owning a home — all relatable things I’m sure some of my most bored followers would enjoy every now and then.
But I don’t. Not anymore.
Over the past few years, the internet has shown me — people like me, and other underrepresented voices not exactly like me — that strangers should permanently lose the right to access that part of my life. Online, I exist to create things, to entertain through my art. You don’t get to hear my thoughts about canceling student loan debt unless I write an article about it. You had that right once, but you lost it.
Why? Because when I did share the more vulnerable parts of myself, I was told my thoughts aren’t valid. (There’s this whole thing about a Family Guy meme telling me to stop talking, I don’t really want to bring it up again.) I hear enough of that from myself, I don’t need to hear it from people who think they know me.
The less I share about my “real” life online, the happier I am. Lighthearted moments with my husband are even funnier because they’re just for him and me. My mom’s advice sticks with me more because I’m not re-sharing it with my followers. I have more space to think through my ideas, my feelings, my anxieties — my joy. It’s all mine. And it’s shared only with the people that matter most to me. Those who have earned the right to experience all of it alongside me.
Strangers will always use my words as weapons against me and to elevate their own worldviews. That’s fine. Once I publish something, it’s no longer mine — that’s my choice, and others will do with it what they please. I can’t control how people react. I used to try; I can’t anymore.
Getting to know me is a privilege. Not because I don’t want to know you, but because putting a barrier between my real life and what I post online is a staple for my mental health, for my physical health, for the health of my real-life relationships, for the safety of the people I love and for my own well-being.
I will always try to be friendly when people reach out to me. (I’ll ignore you if you’re condescending or rude most days.) It’s nothing personal if I keep my distance. I just have a life, one that’s very precious and meaningful to me, and living it through a screen, for me, is an era quickly fleeting.
There will always be my writing, for the purposes of reflection, education, entertainment. These are my words, and a piece of myself will always shine through every single one of them. But I’m in control of how much of me you see. This is how it must be, to make the most of life beyond my keyboard.