I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently — I am not good at the internet.
Author’s Note: At present, I’m not active on social media, so please don’t contact me there. If you want to know more about why, read on!
I don’t mean I lack relevant skills. I built up a moderate social media presence; I’m proud of my work at Mashable; I know how this stuff works.
But from a personal perspective, the internet has enabled all of the things I least like about myself. It becomes trivial to be snarky. I stay at home all the time, cynical and frustrated. This isn’t the internet’s fault, but it’s a side-effect of the social media trends that seem to dominate internet culture.
Growing Up Online
When we wake up each day, we’re largely the same as when we fell asleep. Our weight stays approximately the same; our hair may grow half a millimeter; our fingernails make some progress. But we can consider ourselves to be: Me +/- small change
This gradual change works fine for physical attributes. But when it comes to our personalities, we don’t always want things to be gradual. Before the internet, there were times when our personalities were discontinuous functions: you go from middle school to high school, or you go to college, or you change cities. All of a sudden, you have this remarkable opportunity! You can be an entirely different person! Blank slate!
Not so with the internet.
Who is Gisikw?
My username across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a bunch of other services is “gisikw”. It was originally assigned to me as my college username, and I kept it for consistency. But gisikw is an entity all on its own. While I’m asleep, gisikw is sharing his opinions, racking up video views, retweets, comments. When I wake up, I have to pull out my phone or tablet, just to figure out “Okay, who am I today?”
Our social media personas, our daemons, exist independently of ourselves. I’ll point you to a TED talk by Mashable’s CSO, Adam Ostrow, that talks about this a bit. There’s a fascinating idea that because of the amount of information we share, our digital representations may actually outlive us.
But for all gisikw’s information, he’s not me.
The Sunken Cost Fallacy
Humans kinda suck. We’ve got a lot of awkward behavioral quirks. And when it comes to our online personas, I freely confess: I suffer from the sunken cost fallacy.
Even though I know full well that gisikw is not me, gisikw is by far my largest investment.
When we’ve invested so much time and energy in an online persona, it becomes very difficult to distance ourselves from that representation. It’s hard to decide that we want to reinvent ourselves, because our computers and our phones are constantly throwing up notifications from our daemons, reminding us of what our online persona is.
I’m sure there are people who are able to simply close their accounts, to disable their daemons. I’m, unfortunately, not one of them.
Lock Him Up and Throw Away the Key
I’m not comfortable being trapped as gisikw anymore, but I’m also not ready to discard years of history. So here’s what I’ve done instead:
- First, I set up a new email account
- I logged into Facebook, Twitter, etc, and switched the email address
- I removed my phone from all these services
- I generated new random passwords for all these accounts
- I put a list of all these passwords (and the email password) into a text file
- I created a master password and encrypted the text file
- I gave the master password to a dear friend
- I logged out of all the things!
It’s not a perfect solution — I’m sure if I tried hard enough, I could get back into some of these accounts. But without access to the passwords, and without access to the associated email, it would be a major pain.
My hope here is to try and figure out what my life is, and who I want to be — apart from gisikw. I may come back to these accounts, I may not. I may create a whole new set of accounts if I think it’s worthwhile. But for the moment, this is a happy medium.