The internet can be an amazing tool for communication. When I was in Mexico for the summer, without a phone plan or special equipment, I was able to speak with my parents over Wifi, for free, 1500 miles away. On a regular basis, I can receive and respond to messages in realtime from people in the Philippines, Germany, and Kenya. I have even been able to connect with other Catholic Youtubers, people that I have never met in real life, and been able to share about our experiences in this ministry. What an amazing tool for our age!
At the same time, the internet can also be a great tool for escapism. Rather than engaging with the world as it is, seeing the troubles, fears, boredom, discomfort, or stress around us, we are able to enter a world that knows nothing of that and leave everything behind. Whether it’s fantasy football, chatroom debates about movie theories, or something as in-depth as Second Life, a platform whose name alone encourages a retreat from reality for the sake of an artificial one, the internet can be used to disconnect from our surroundings and devote our time to something that isn’t all that “real.”
Naturally, this leads to a growing issue of what many would describe as our “digital identity.” As kids growing up in the 90s, we were taught that we needed to be careful with who we interacted with online; because internet allowed anonymity, embellishment, and outright lies, we couldn’t ever be sure who we were talking with, and someone claiming to be a 12-year-old girl might actually be a 45-year-old man. Today, that caution still remains, but so does its opposite: we need to be careful who we are portraying ourselves to be and what affect inaccurate depictions might have on our sense of self. With the ability to curate how the world sees us, we run the risk of inadvertently representing a false self to others and even confusing ourselves.
These are the topics that Br. Tito and I discuss this week on our podcast, Everyday Liminality. Using the the virtual world of the movie Ready Player One as a starting point, we discuss the difference between who we portray to be online and who we actually are in our everyday life, look at the effect such a divide might have on our sense of self, and wonder whether it’s all bad.