A few weeks ago, as I was enjoying a routine Saturday morning of Internetting and caffeinating, a thought came to me: my real self is often jealous of my virtual self. Which I thought was silly, but perfectly understandable.
I have an online persona—on this blog, on my Facebook profile, and every other social network—carefully crafted and controlled, as I’ve mused about before. So, while my digital self isn’t perfect (she swears, she makes typos, she complains about trivial things on Twitter), I must admit she is better-looking, friendlier, and more intriguing than the girl who is typing this blog post. Because I mold her that way.
But wait. Doesn’t that mean I’m smarter and prettier and better than her? I fucking made her. (Yes, my real self swears, too.)
That morning, all of this ran through my head. Cue the freak out.
I thought about that disconnect—the seemingly flawless avatar versus her flesh-and-bone servant behind the computer screen—and experienced a mini existential crisis at my desk for a good half-hour.
* * *
This pondering of my two selves: it’s stuff I’ve thought about since the days of Friendster, and particularly MySpace when we were allowed to fiddle with the HTML on our profiles to make them extensions of ourselves. And this year, my fascination with the merging of my real and virtual worlds kept growing.
Wandering in Las Vegas last month tripped me out. It made me think about my projection: the girl on the surface for the public to see, but also the girl staring back at me when I looked in the mirror. That girl strolled from Paris to the Bellagio to Caesar’s Palace to the Mirage, cocktail in hand, dressed much nicer than I would be, and carried an unusually large amount of cash in her purse. She lurked around poker and roulette tables; she fed $100 bills liberally into slot machines; she drank at 9am at numerous casino bars, chasing royal flushes on video poker machines and becoming attached to the ones that paid out.
That was not me.
And yet, it totally was.
* * *
I’ve spoken to a few friends about how I wear different faces or masks for the various parts of my life: work, family, extended family, friends (set A), friends (set B), friends (set C), and online. Not in a deceptive way; it’s just naturally how I operate in order to navigate, connect, and empathize in different social realms.
But Las Vegas is one of those timeless, lawless, and surreal places where the distinction between me and the me I’m putting on evaporates. Everything blurs.
But I suppose that’s the twisted beauty of Vegas. You can be you. Or you can be whomever you want to be. Both are accepted.
That’s how I view the relationship between my real self and my virtual self. There’s a blatant separation, and the latter matures and continues to mold its own identity. But still, both are me.
And so there’s something about those point-the-camera-at-the-mirror shots that I really, really love. Because it’s a moment in which both of my selves are . . . I don’t know . . . interacting?
Here, I’ve included those types of shots that force me to think about who is taking the picture, who is in the picture, and what happens when those two individuals collide. While I think reflection shots can evoke very different feelings and ideas from shadow shots, I included photographs of shadows, too, like the one above from the Neon Boneyard.
A shadow is dark but not devoid: I find myself transferring mischief and strength into a silhouette I project on the ground. There are traces of that want to be desirable and powerful, which is also evident in a shot of oneself in the mirror.
A spiky glass sculpture at a past Chihuly exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Shadows in some ways are viewed as byproducts, but objects and people need them to be whole. To be complex.
More Posts on Virtual Life & Persona:
- Persona in the Virtual World: Crafting a Second Self
- Notes on Virtual Life, Part I: The Evolution of Friendship
- Notes on Virtual Life, Part II: Facebook, Twitter, and the Seeds of Compartmentalization
- Notes on Virtual Life, Part III: Nomadic Relationships
- Notes on Virtual Life, Part IV: On Unplugging & Merging Virtual and Real
- Notes on Virtual Life, Part V: Proximity & Physical Space
- Notes on Virtual Life, Part VI: Facebook Status Updates (And What I Could Have Said)