This kind of controlled online “I” is, of course, deeply fake—even as it’s really, distressingly tied to the way we are perceived and move through the world, it often has little to do with the way we experience and think about that world. The self that is acceptable to your tinder date, your boss, and your grandma, while factually tied to your data, is going to be a highly narrowed iteration of any feeling, perceiving, real “I,” and certainly a far cry from the inconsistent but emotionally open self of the early Internet. It has all the tools of that Internet, plus more: image manipulation, online, becomes continually easier, with a new face modification app in the iTunes store every other day. It’s the context of that manipulation that has changed. In tying itself up in reality, the Internet has gotten very fake.

Nora Battelle on false realities.

Because I am both, a) Internet Old™, and b) part of some minority intersections, I’ve never actually been my “IRL self” online; my presence is always filtered through a series of personas that are compartmentalized by audience. They’re all “mes”—in the same way the me who exists at my day job is still me but is a different me to the me that exists at home with my husband—but they’re all aspects and avatars of me, not the Platonic Ideal of Me.1

This way of operating online has always seemed natural because it’s the way most people operate offline. This isn’t a contentious concept and has been described in psychology and related fields for decades. The forced consolidation towards a singular online persona in the early 2000s—most famously driven by Mark Zuckerberg’s quote “having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity”—always thus seemed both unnatural and, dare I say, the thinking of immature manchildren who’d never actually had to develop the professional/personal2 divide of most fully-fledged adults.

Which is a tl;dr way of saying I never consolidated identities (I rarely use Facebook and I certainly don’t use it as an “identity hub” to access other online services) or tried to pretend the mes that exist online are the “whole and real” me. Which is also why I find trends like the quoted article’s “Finstagrams” fascinating in a reversion-to-the-mean kind of way.

In other words, kids, you be the you you wanna be to the people you wanna be it to. Regardless of what advertisers and corporate data hoarders might tell you otherwise.

  1. Some of you may also notice this trope of multiple selves/personas crops up a lot in my fiction…
  2. And parental, for that matter; parents are different people with their children than they are with the friends, coworkers, and spouses.