Who am I ? Where am I going? What am I trying to say, and to whom?
These questions may sound familiar to you. Maybe they largely belong to your teenage years, maybe you still ask them to yourself, or maybe you have a different set of questions in search of your own direction and path. These questions, however, accompany me almost every day with varying forms and intensities .
For a good while, they have been answering themselves through nothing else but my sole existence, without even me noticing. I have done many self-identifications throughout my childhood and teenage years. Whether they were right or wrong ones, I had the illusion of having somewhat a sense of self and a direction as Zeynep. That was enough for the time being.
As one’s self-awareness develops further on its way out of arguably painful adolescence years, one becomes more conscious of themselves, their surroundings, and the way they interact with both. Every relationship and occasion then becomes a playground in trying to find some answers. Sometimes we do manage to go very fast on the swing and feel like as if we are flying, but sometimes we fall off the slide and hurt our knee very bad.
The way consciousness develops, particularly during the years of coming of age, must have changed ever since the first social media platform was introduced. Facebook can be considered as a starting point, or even platforms prior to Facebook such as MSN, LinkedIn or Myspace could be taken into consideration for this shift around one’s mental growth. On top of the heavy layers of self-questioning, there came an extra couple more, making you get used to the processes of projection and identification through others and their judgements. In our day and age, there is an abundance of social media platforms that encourage comparison, a false self-expression and a dishonest self presentation.
As much as I started out giving insights on my own experience, the aforementioned truth about social media tools are greatly touching upon the lives of every user. The times where I examined my own identity and the ways in which I (tried to) express it the most, was when I became a regular user of Instagram.
I really like being on Instagram. I like how it allows me to see all the people and communities I enjoy all in one place and how it makes it possible for me to meet my intentions of creating both visual and textual content that serve to the needs of my self-expression. Nonetheless, it took me a good amount of time and experience to create a healthy community of followings. A one that would make me hardly ever qualify Instagram as “toxic” or “useless” anymore.
Needless to say that I have been hurt, fallen into the pits of self-doubt and comparison, disregarded and lost my own path, and gotten fooled by many intangible illusions along the way. Without being aware of it or not, I’m sure most of you have as well. Exploring and trying to define the self isn’t easy on its own, let alone having to do it with an invisible surveillance and a constant need of external approval. Many people I know on Instagram, appear as quite different in person. Same goes the other way around. People have gotten very much used to have Instagram as a tool to create an identity, the authenticity of which always appears questionable. Insecurities, traits considered as “flawed” and imperfect are being kept away on the well curated feed. But to whom does this serve?
Certainly not to the user. Not only they fool themselves by choosing not to genuinely share who they are; but also create a notable distance with themselves down the path of self acceptance. Filtering yourself through brutal and unforgiving notions surely don’t come in handy in any case. It doesn’t serve to their followers either. They then form a false idea around the person, only to contribute further into the painful chain of constructed expectations.
All that being said, it does make me feel hopeful to see more and more people speaking up and making an effort regarding the issue of online identities. My point is not to encourage sharing everything “bad” alongside the “good” for the sake of full transparency, but instead to remind the importance of awareness when creating and managing an online presence. Not everything we go through will find its way on our Instagram feed; however checking in with ourselves on the accuracy of the content we do put out there must be a priority.
What I further recommend is to ask the questions “Who am I?”, Where am I going?”, “What am I trying to say and to whom?” to yourself and yourself only; and then to let your online identity be a reflection of those ever-ambiguous answers.