In Search of a Healthy Digital Self

Have you ever taken a break from social media and thought, this is really good for my mental health? How often do you ask yourself why it feels good to stay away? Whether it’s a year, a month, a week or 24 hours, an intentional break from social media can feel like a breath of fresh air, a clearing of the mind, a return to something real.

Two months ago, after a long-term relationship with a partner ended, and the band we both performed in decided to part ways with me, I deactivated my Instagram. It felt like every time I had been logging into my account and scrolling through the feed, I was sticking my head into the mouth of a hungry beast. I would see photos of the people I missed–smiling, performing, traveling together, and I immediately experienced a crushing pain. My feelings of rejection and discomfort were difficult to manage alone, so I posted photos, art, captions and stories that exposed my aching heart. ‘Likes’ from friends who bared witness soothed my ego, along with the adrenaline rush that came from subjecting my private life to semi-public space. After a while, I always felt heavy and sad once again.

I tried the ‘mute’ function on the app, to avoid seeing things that triggered difficult emotions, but my self-restraint proved unreliable. Years ago, a friend of mine said to me; “I’m not sure that your skin is thick enough for the internet. You’ve got to learn to turn off parts of yourself, while online, over and over again.” I think about that conversation every so often and wonder, am I unfit to survive in this digital world?

Sometimes I can hear my digital reflection calling out to me in response; No! Don’t be so negative! I may be an illusion, but don’t forget, you are too! Use this space however you want. It is during these moments that I begin to dream again about the infinite digital worlds we could be creating together and existing in, ideas I explored in my very first post on QC Voices

What defines a happy and thriving digital identity? The answers may rely on our willingness to explore the question, alone and with people we care about, more often. In-depth, face-to-face conversations about who we are and how we exist online, are often avoided, or met with resistance. Even sharing stories in-person that have already been experienced through social media can feel redundant or onerous. On top of interpersonal dynamics, we know that the corporations creating social media platforms, manipulate our emotions through algorithms and advertising. It’s a difficult world to navigate, especially when we may feel incapable of changing the way the systems function against so many of us.

Discussions amongst people of different generations can bring about empathy and creative ideas.  One of my family members, in his 70s, is incredibly resistant to having an online presence at all.  His concerns about surveillance are similar to my own, though I have shared with him that the lengths he sometimes goes to try and erase what makes its way online, may not be worth the effort. When I told the eleven-year-old who I spend time with as a nanny about my anxieties toward social media, she responded with confusion as to why I wasn’t just accepting this world as it is and enjoying all of the cool things we can do with technology. Her perspective opened me up to considering the gratitude I have for being a cyborg.

We can learn so much from the stories that are shared by those we follow on social media, particularly by underrepresented voices who have not seen themselves accurately or frequently portrayed in the mainstream. Beautiful connections are made every day. Poems are woven together through fleeting glimpses of one’s seemingly ordinary experience. My QC Voices companions and comrades, like Nadia Misir, explore and share the world in ways that are possible, because of these tools.

Still, with all the beauty revealed and revolutions bubbling to the surface, some days my resolve is that the only true answer to maintaining a healthy digital identity, is to obliterate the notion of a digital self altogether. I aspire to develop a relationship with this reflection of mine, this version of my constructed identity, that inspires and contributes to positive change in the world. Like life in front of a screen, that sometimes means departing from your surroundings, changing directions, and getting to know yourself again and again. I look forward to these transformations, to re-reading this in the future, and reflecting on how far I’ve come.


One thought on “In Search of a Healthy Digital Self

  1. Rhea, thank you for writing this—adding it to my thesis reading list. I haven’t yet read anything that feels so true when it comes to the construction of digital identity that factors in how it can help us find community, but also isolate us from ourselves and community. Thinking about what a radical reimagining of how we exist digitally (and narrate that existence) gives me hope!

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