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Increasing congruence between our physical and virtual identities

At the risk of elaborating too much on what we already know, many people live inauthentic lives on social media. This topic has become so cliché that I cringe even writing these sentences, but I’m continuing because I want to move the conversation beyond judging white girls for their pumpkin pictures (we’re all guilty of it, by the way) and talking about our millennial expectations of perfection and identity.

Truth be told, our obsession with perfection and identity branding is sad, and I don’t mean that harshly. I mean it genuinely: Between the AP/IB/dual enrollment bullshit, the college application process, the (for some) Greek Life recruiting process–or, better yet, the shame imposed on some for never even going to college, our generation and those younger than us have been raised in an extreme culture of competition in which looks, presence, and brains matter–as long as other people can see them.

So it’s no surprise that when we become dissatisfied with our physical reality, we open whatever screen is closest to us and run for safety into the arms of virtual reality where we can control exactly how people see us: our interests, our music, the events we “attend,” the people we hang out with, etc. We’ve always been able to: we began our adolescence on Xanga and MySpace and learned from age 11 that having an identity meant having an updated profile. What was life without virtual feedback and identity? I truly don’t remember. Now half of us can’t even date without having a Tinder that shows how cool and artsy and nature-y we are, not to mention the golden trick of exploiting your dog in your first profile pic. (Thanks, Lillian.)

Yet despite being convinced of Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram’s ability to make us feel better about ourselves, why do these roads lead to self-loathing for so many people? Is the competitive nature in which we were raised so salient that we can’t even turn it off among our friends? Are we taking cute pictures on the beach to one-up each other? Are we afraid that if we aren’t posting announcements about our latest accomplishment, acceptance, or triumph, we will be deemed irrelevant? If we aren’t posting photos of us smiling (genuine or not), are we worried that our exes will think we’re not thriving?

I write this post with compassion and much self-reflection. So many people ask me if I was subtweeting them in particular posts, and I’m sure many people will think the same for this one, but I’m thinking of my own social media past here. How fascinating is it that many of us participate in the facade of online identity while simultaneously judging others for it and talking about how toxic it is? What would it take for someone engaging in an inauthentic online identity to sacrifice the likes and retweets in pursuit of real-life congruence and genuine meaning?



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