Digital Addiction and Identity: A Breakthrough

In one of my favorite novels—The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham—the protagonist Kitty Fane learns many lessons through conversation. To quote my book blog:

…Kitty “collects” conversations like you might collect seashells on the beach. They are not always good ones, but in the moment, and upon reflection, she begins to see a larger picture than the narrow one inside her brain.

I feel like I’ve been having “Kitty Fane” conversations quite a bit this year.

Mostly, I’ve been talking with people about personal identity and what it means to be authentic. And during a recent conversation with a friend, I realized something very important. Not only do we all have “masks” or multiple identities that we wear, but these masks are tied to specific places, people, and contexts in our lives.

You might remember I’ve been trying desperately to lose my internet addiction and problematic relationship with social media. Past successes have been short lived. I can take a social media fast anytime, but I come back to it with a vengeance. I can leave Instagram, but I transfer my addiction to another app. What is going on here?

This conversation helped me realize that I am closer to the real me online. There’s many reasons I am not the person I want to be “in real life.” Mostly due to context and lack of opportunity. Online I am blunt and loquacious—or to put it more nicely, genuine and outgoing. Offline, the relationships and situations are different. I don’t have a lot of close friends close by. I have fewer responsibilities and chances to speak.

My desire for social media, then, stems not from a particular app, but rather a desire to be this version of myself. My favorite version. Maybe even the best version.

This was a eureka moment. Because it means the only way to become a digital minimalist would be to find opportunities to be this person offline. In other words, this identity is exactly the void that my internet addiction fills. Maybe it seems obvious to an outsider, but it’s taken me a very long time—years, in fact—to figure this out.

The question is, now what?

I honestly don’t know. The tiny, offline social life I did have, once upon a time, is no longer. Friends get busy, jobs change, and with the pandemic, opportunities become fewer. Efforts to build a social life have led me back to the internet, due to distance, pandemic restrictions, or just a lack of finding anything worth doing offline.

I feel better, however, knowing what the root problem is. I understand now why my efforts towards digital minimalism have always fallen short of my goal.

7 thoughts on “Digital Addiction and Identity: A Breakthrough

  1. This post has been on my mind and bumming me out for two weeks. I ended up writing a 5 page reply about authenticity and how any online persona is certainly not the best version of you. Scrapped it when I realized there’s no way of presenting something that long to a stranger and not coming across like a psychopath (it ended up getting way too self-reflective and depressing anyway, aha).

    But now I’ve found myself in a catch-22 situation where I’d like to discuss the futility of online relationships while also trying to begin an online relationship. It sucks.

    ANYWAY, maybe check out the YouTube channel Carefree Wandering. The professor uses clickbaity titles but he has interesting insights on modern identity. And take care.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Vasili! While I’m not happy I bummed you out… 😆 I am truly glad the post generated so much thought. And thanks for the rec, I will look up Carefree Wandering.

      I think the thing I want to emphasize the most in this post (and maybe it wasn’t completely clear) is that I do believe the best version of yourself *can* exist in offline and could be better to the extent that you have people holding you accountable and seeing you from many angles (literally and metaphorically). The reason I don’t think this is a possibility for me right now – and why I prefer my online identities – is because of a lack of opportunity and roles. So while I can still attempt to be authentic IRL, there’s a realm of potential that I just haven’t been able to tap into outside of online communities, in spite of efforts to find those opportunities IRL.

      If you’d like to continue the conversation, feel free to comment further or link to your own blog; I welcome long threads. 🙂

      Like

      1. Sorry, I don’t have a blog or any social media. And for the record, I’m an idiot. I’m 29, a bum, and I have no idea what I’m talking about. I just like your YouTube channel (the Bible vid was especially helpful) and came over here to see why you were upset. Now brace yourself because I’m going to quote you, aha.

        You say that you cannot be the best version of yourself offline because of a “lack of opportunities and roles.” You “don’t have a lot of close friends close by… [and] fewer responsibilities and chances to speak.” This implies that you cannot be the best version of yourself alone. You either need additional resources/power or at least other people to engage with. I think I agree with this but I’m not sure. We kind-of get into “if a tree falls in the forest” territory. If Marian is her best-self but there is no one there to benefit, does she feel fulfilled? …And do internet people count?

        Now, by writing this out I might be answering my own question. Until yesterday I’ve never engaged with a stranger online and it’s actually pretty fun and intellectually stimulating. However, I suspect this may be where it ends. In this parasocial relationship (sorry for the buzzwords) I doubt we’ll ever become friend-friends. I think I’ll just be a fan of a version of you, and to you I’ll just be an annoying, trite, disembodied argument; these types of relationships are what’s at the heart of my bummed-outery. I’m worried that because of “distance, pandemic restrictions, or just a lack of finding anything worth doing offline” (that last one kills me) you’re inviting a pale imitation of true connectedness and may be doing more mental harm than good.

        And of course millions of people do this, and I have no alternatives, and I’m making a ton of assumptions. I guess I’m just picking on you because you appear relatable and well-meaning. But that’s your fault, aha.

        PS

        Everything in my soul says an IRL persona is inherently better than an online persona precisely for the fact that one’s ego has LESS control over it. Gonna need a philosopher (or book recommendation) to prove that, though.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I appreciate your thoughts here, Marian. I’m glad for you, making such a breakthrough. Though 40-something, I still have some identity issues at times. It’s part of why I like blogging. Hope you don’t mind, thought I’d share a link to a post I did on an insight why I, as an introvert, like (at the time) Twitter (I’ve since deleted and am fasting from the only thing left, my Facebook…) Thanks for being vulnerable here. It takes strength. Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

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