How many social media accounts do I have? Well, I couldn’t tell you the number off the top of my head. All I know is I can’t count them on one hand. I’m a college student who spends a significant amount of her day on a computer and a smartphone, constantly checking for updates from friends, companies and news organizations, updates I receive through an array of websites and apps. Sometimes I get breaking news — I learned about Sandy Hook, Pope Francis’ nomination and the truth about grocery store expiration dates from CNN’s Facebook page — and sometimes it’s nothing new — oh, nice to see another selfie of Alyssa; I’d forgotten what she looked like.
I imagine most of us use a lot of social media: for information, for promoting our ideas in writing or photography, and just for fun. Some use it to the point of abuse. You can get a very different vibe from someone’s Facebook than you get from that person in real life. Many people I like in real life express political views I see as logical fallacies online in an intolerant way. Others I prefer online as opposed to real life. Still others are annoying no matter where you encounter them.
I encounter these people through one of the many devices we probably carry at least one of. With laptops, smartphones and tablets to browse the Internet at will, we can be connected to social media wherever we go. With each different medium, we can portray a different self. While I’d like to think I am my “true” self no matter what platform I use, I do notice different aspects of myself on different accounts. Facebook Jessica is often annoyed about school and enjoys posting hundreds of photos of scenery. Twitter Jessica is aware that her account is public and so mainly sends out cryptic sub-tweets and promotes her quirky — read: weird — blog posts. Instagram Jessica likes a lot of photos of food, LinkedIn Jessica is unemployed and Pinterest Jessica really, really likes otters.
It’s not that I’m pretending to be someone else when I’m signed into these accounts. My full legal name is listed, and I post about my boring everyday life that is so uniquely mine. But because of the different functions of each site or app and the different media in which they require you to post, I feel different parts of me are revealed.
Those different selves of ours exist only because we exist on the Internet. We’re a generation that needs technology to work and survive — critics forget email and social media can be used to communicate and get work done — so we carry around computers and phones that alert us the moment someone wants to get in touch with us.
This makes us feel a certain urgency, as if we have to respond immediately to any message we get. This is good for the sake of almost instantaneous communication, but what about the rest of our life that doesn’t involve being plugged in? What about our lives — work, relationships, hobbies — that exist without a cord and battery? How much are we investing in our Internet selves?
Late in the “Harry Potter” series, Harry learns about the Horcruxes, objects all-around bad guy Lord Voldemort uses to house segments of his soul, extracted when he committed murder. The premise behind creating the Horcruxes is that even if Voldemort’s body is killed, he will continue to live, in whatever degenerate state, because part of his soul remains alive in the objects.
Could we say, then, that our Internet selves function rather like Horcruxes?
Obviously, you won’t be able to resurrect via your Instagram selfie (which, by the way, is now a word defined by Oxford Dictionaries Online). But the Internet will most likely exist long after we are all gone. Perhaps our Vine videos will still be viewable three generations from now. Parts of our essence were put into each account we made, and while we might not have really put our soul, or whatever you think exists, into those accounts, it certainly divided our attention from whatever else we could have been doing.
After all, there is still our original self, the one we don’t need to plug in to recharge, to pay attention to.