Dear Dr. Donut: The Toggle is Real
At Upwrite, we believe in finding goodness, beauty, and truth in the zeitgeist. Enter Dr. Donut, our on-call millennial with an eye for the deep stuff in the everyday grind. Every so often, she'll be answering reader questions about millennial conundrums, like this one. Have a question about social media and the soul? Lattes and legacy? Memes and mercy? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, and your Q may just get an A. Without further ado: the doctor has entered the building.
Dear Dr. Donut:
My online persona struggle is real. While I love interacting with people online on my public Instagram, it feels sort of shady when my IRL friends follow me on there. Makes me feel some major #impostersyndrome, if you feel me, and I live in fear of someone calling me out IRL for seeming so different online. But the truth is the ONLINE me IS the real me -- a more curated and poetic me, to be sure, but a version of me, all the same. I started a private account for people I know in my regular life and encouraged friends to follow me there... but the essence of THAT doesn't feel "right," either. What is the Internet even for? Am I the only one that feels this way? How do I make it stop!?
I appreciate these questions because I am currently living them! I'm not sure if I have all the answers, but I'm going to attempt to shed some light on this because I'm very into living my questions now. Let's start at the end and work backwards: you can't make "it"-- all of this--stop. But you're not the only one who feels this way, and the Internet is for you. Please stay!
Let's go back before hashtags for a second. If your middle school experience was anything like mine, you heard the term "two-faced" thrown around on the regular. I've said it about others, and I've had it said about me. Twelve-year-olds are just rude. Fact. While those insults might've worked in middle school, I would argue that by our twenties, it's common knowledge that our personalities and our lives are just too complex to be confined to a box. It is practically impossible to be the exact same person everywhere and to everybody we encounter. I don't think acting differently around your grandparents, your childhood gal pals, and your new coworkers automatically makes you fake. In fact, this usually means you are a combo of considerate and perceptive. These are good things to be. Anyway. Lately I'm thinking The Big Scary Internet is just like any other person we will encounter and maneuver around in this life. The good and the bad news is, we can more or less run wild with how we wish to be perceived on the web.
Enter Instagram, an app that introduced most of us to the terms "curate" and "aesthetic" as we know them today. Also "#livefolk," whatever that means. And with what does Instagram conveniently provide for us? BOXES. Figuratively and literally. So in real life, we're out here growing and experiencing and learning and loving, breaking out of our respective boxes and into young adulthood, and we have been presented with a mold again. This time, we get to decide exactly what goes into it.
While virtually every user is on Instagram to post photos, many give just as much--or more-- attention to the captions under them (doubt they saw that one coming in 2010). Some pair these images with witty one-liners, while others treat the caption section like a diary entry (hi). Some fiddle around for ten minutes before settling on a single emoji, others let the image speak for itself. None of these are wrong. Additionally, none of these are directly correlated to the amount of depth someone has in their soul.
Some of the most insightful, self-aware, intelligent people I know may appear "aloof" or unapproachable online because they’re simply not comfortable throwing out every thought that comes into their head into one of the many voids of the Internet. Cool, they're still staying true to themselves. Meanwhile, I'm in more of the "caring = sharing" camp, and I have plenty of "poetic" moments myself, yet I’m not always down for thoughtful heart discussion IRL. But you might not know that, judging by my online presence. You’re seeing one or two moments out of my day, that I choose (oft referred to as the Insta "highlight reel"). When I’m not feeling like my best self (positive, joyful, user of exclamation!!!! points), I typically keep to myself: online and in real life. If I'm bummin', I put my phone down. That’s just a small personal preference, not some kind of hole in my personality that equates to fakeness.
While very few of us are doing it "wrong," it’s a stretch to say any of us are doing it "right," either. That's okay. We choose a way to exist on the Internet similar to how we choose a way to exist in the world. What you are feeling has been experienced by hundreds of thousands, easy. Including me. Many people deal with these feels and pretend like they don’t, because actually owning up to the fact that we do spend a portion of our lives with our faces in our phones is hard to swallow. I’m over it, and I like to talk about it.
As far as having two accounts goes, I definitely understand the appeal. For those who are very into visuals and enjoy patterns, design, and congruency, quality photos uninterrupted by memes or blurry photos of a night out can be very pleasing to the eye (a theme for your feed, if you will), and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to tap into your creative side. A friend whose last picture is from 37 weeks ago might not understand why you care about your ~feed~ and that’s fine. She doesn’t need to.
My dear Hashtag, if having another account makes sense to you, KEEP IT. I believe as long as you understand why you care about your overall #InstaEffort, and your main goal is not to hurt others, make them otherworldly jealous, or make your "online self" appear as far off from your "offline self" as possible, you’re good. IT’S HARD TO BE YOURSELF, on- and offline, but we owe it to ourselves to keep striving for it.