I am learning the lessons of social media. Not only do I have a time-limited embodied life that keeps me busy enough—respiring, digesting, ambulating, interacting with others in real time and real places, and other tasks—I need to have a digital presence. As the young digital acolytes warned in a social media workshop I was made to attend by my employer, “If you are not on the web, you don’t exist.” I am not certain that these social media types are the students who majored in Philosophy; that seems like a different crowd but I am taking their advice to heart, however, fickle that heart is. If Rene Descartes were living today, instead of writing “Je pense, donc je suis” or “I think, therefore I am”, he might have penned, “Je clic, dons je suis” or “I click, therefore I am.” Or being French, he may have simply enjoyed a glass of Beaujolais and waited for this new fad to pass.
Being way too American and old enough to feel that I better keep up with the newest technologies lest I betray my age and foggeyness, I launched into an intensive self-improvement plan. So, the first step was to assess my digital presence. Who was I? What traces was I leaving? If I Googled or Binged myself, who would I find? The first results were a little shocking. Googling my somewhat unusual name (Sandra Enos, Ethnic Azorean, simplified at the border when we migrated here), I found lots of matches. I found myself as professor (good news for me) and I also learned that another me had recently died in Vermont and yet another me had been indicted in Virginia. You can imagine my confusion and dismay. Because I am so new to the etiquette of the web, if there is such a thing, I didn’t know if I was expected to send a note to the deceased and a cease and desist order to my felonious namesake. Suppose some remote contact was trying to find me on the web and didn’t have enough information to discern among the multiple me’s? I mean how is one to approach these things? Lots of indelicate situations can arise; I am certain of it.
Googling for web hits was one thing. I could also birddog my presence in photos and videos. Again, sort of shocking. I found images of myself that I never posted and didn’t recognize. I don’t have a press agent or a publicity team so I am not certain who is making me famous. In fact, I may not want a digital presence. Shouldn’t we have some rights to not have our bad pictures posted? This whole experience reminded me of that awful day when the high school yearbook came out and you learned two pieces of very bad news. First, you are so unattractive that other people cannot tell a flattering picture of you from an awful one. One photograph looks as unappealing as the other to the editor of the yearbook. Second, among all the stupid photos, inside jokes and lame stories, your pithy comments and brilliant insights about your fellow students didn’t make the final cut after all. The web seemed like that day in high school. I was stuck with two uncomfortable feelings—a disconcerting sense of loss of control and a bitter taste of revenge—just like in high school.
Given these early experiences, I was committed to setting things right. I figured that my web presence should be very much a matter of my invention. I wanted to be creative, cutting edge, entrepreneurial, integrated, all natural—whatever would make my digital presence cooler than my real presence. I mean creativity and innovation are all the rage now; they are the cat’s pajamas which given our recent over-the-top seduction by our house pets sounds like a perfect niche to explore. (Gosh, I am already feeling entrepreneurial.) So, my webself will be taller, more clever, more generous, more flexible, and more centered. And as a distinguishing marketing pitch, I will also suggest that while many twenty-year olds can multitask, that I can uni-task–do one only thing at a time and get it done. A uni-tasker is like a unicyclist. We don’t win races; we have amazing balance and we can do our tricks on a tightrope. Try that you thumb wielding texter, you!
If I understand the workshop leaders correctly, I needed to take charge and manage by web self. I need to Tweet. I need to Facebook. I needed to Reddit. I needed to blog and reblog. I need to Instagram. I need to do things that aren’t even popular yet. I need to be an influencer. I need to be an aggregator. I needed to have a webpage with a clear compelling design. Most importantly, the workshop leader insisted that I needed to drive eyeballs my way. Sounds like a cattle drive to me with cowboys and reluctant cows. It is brings up one of those creepy drawings of
One important question that the workshop leader failed to address at all, a deeply existential one to my way of thinking. What if your digital presence and your real self begin to drift apart from each other? What if they go their separate ways? What if your digital self finds better work? What if your digital self gets beaten up and bullied on the web, which I know is a real danger? How much does your real self feel that pain? I am thinking a great deal which I think may mean doubling the cost for therapy but maybe not for medication.