Traces of Identity – Guest Post

Posted on Tuesday, Jul 24, 2012

_Today’s post is a guest post from the super-amazing @writetoreach. I also totally put up this picture without asking her, but it seemed appropriate. Yay coffee.)_

My name is Ashley and I blog at Writing To Reach You.  When I asked for opportunities to guest blog, Matt offered me some space here and asked, “how about the personal and emotional implications of leaving portions of yourself and your content in a disparate and incongruent network that is both ephemeral and everlasting?”  Matt hit on something I think is so interesting about the content we create for the internet.  What we put out there stays forever, but so much is created that most of it is lost or buried.

I once heard someone say that it’s everyone’s greatest fear to die and be forgotten.  I thought, “Uh, that doesn’t even make my top ten.”  Would I love to write a novel that’s of such great importance that it still has an audience even after my death? Yeah, that sounds pretty great; but if anyone is going to hold a parade in my honor, I’d rather it be while I’m still alive.  What I’m getting at is that leaving a legacy isn’t very important to me, so in that sense, nothing I do on the internet is in an effort to be remembered.

That is not to say that I think what I’m doing as a personal blogger is unimportant. A big part of studying women in literature and women in religion is uncovering the voices of women throughout history.  Just to find something written by a woman of the early Christian church is amazing.  We leave so much behind now that nothing I create is likely to be of such significance, but you never know and I like the idea of exercising my freedom to write and share my thoughts.

I think what is likely to be of greatest value in all of this is what I leave behind of myself to be discovered later by me.  Sure it’s self-indulgent, but I love reading old journals and old blog posts, and it gives me this sense of history that I think I’d be missing if I did nothing to document my life.  I don’t try to record every detail, and mostly what I write is for the sake of working through the present, but it’s very cool to look back and see all that you’ve created and get a sense of yourself as a person who changes.  And it may be interesting to my kids someday too, should I have any.

It’s a weird thing to exist on the internet.  There’s not just the traces of yourself you leave behind, but the present reality of living part of your life online. There are a lot of ways to do it, but when I started, I was more myself on the internet than anywhere else.  I felt limited by my identity in my real life as a grad student, so going online gave me an opportunity to explore more of my interests and meet people who were not part of that world.  And I think that actually made it easier for people to get to know me, at first as a collection of blog posts and tweets, later on the other end of emails and chats, and finally in person.

I think a lot about the way the internet both gives you the opportunity to explore different parts of your identity and also kind of pushes you toward one identity.  What I mean is that the internet gives you a great opportunity to connect with people who share your particular interests.  You can have your writing blog, the message board dedicated to your favorite band, the people who love Downton Abbey as much as you do, and these groups can have almost nothing to do with each other, the same way that your high school friends, your college friends, and your work friends have almost nothing to do with each other.  But, then, in having one facebook profile or twitter account where you speak to all of these different groups of people at once, you lose some of that natural thing of being different things to different people.  Suddenly your work friends are like, “why do you keep talking about this Ze Frank guy? Are you guys dating?”

When I gave up anonymity to start blogging under my real name, it was weirdly like merging my disparate identities together.  Imagine inviting all of your different groups of friends over for a party and then letting them read your journals. It was weird and it hasn’t stopped being weird.  Sometimes it still freaks me out to think that someone can just Google my name and find more than 20,000 tweets, 760 posts about my feelings, and hundreds of vlogs of me talking about nothing (sometimes while wearing a tiara).  I actually take comfort in the fact that there’s so much me out there that most people would probably just give up instead of going through it all.

In having that much of yourself online, there is a risk of negative consequences.  I haven’t experienced any yet, but I think about what I post, and I’m not running for political office. Maybe I will come to regret some of what I have put of myself out there, but I also kind of like the idea of us all living more in public, with our glaring weaknesses and all.  One final thing: if you are reading this in the future, I really hope that teleportation is a reality; a cruel thing about the internet is that you find so many people to love and they are so far away.

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