The rapture is coming.
And, at the risk of being alarmist, the truth is that it’s coming in a way many of us have never seen. This rapture manifests itself in the battle for the discovery of the self – one fought by historians, psychologists, sociologists, comedians, musicians and ordinary people.
The fundamental and most basic question of “who am I?” is now fought on two planes – the online and the “real life”, and the lines blur so constantly, so as to threaten life itself!
Well, not quite. But the truth is that what defines us as people online, is becoming a burden on those who dwell within the ranks of social media sites and networks.
I call this burden “avatar exhaustion”. The “avatar” we hide behind online, and through the words we write, the objects we share, has started to become such a part of daily life that the once solid line between “real” and “online” is becoming ever more difficult to comprehend. And the battle to be “someone” online, often takes unforeseen victims.
Combine this with the fact that there are just so many places to be online; dozens and dozens of social networks, communities, forums, bulletin boards, blog networks, microblogging sites, streaming sites, sharing sites, most modern Internet users have to manage three totally different and often completely disparate instances of the “self” (“home”, “work” and “online”). And, to increasing numbers of people I’ve spoken with about this – it’s utterly exhausting.
This shuffling subjects the brain is subject to an increasing number of mental calculations, analysis of interpersonal relationships, caution in speaking and sharing, degrees of openness and worse of all, time management.
The debate between managing your online and offline lives becomes even more difficult considering the fact that everyone seems to be connected, most of which have real-time web access and SMS alerts. The conversation time with offline loved ones is not as sacred anymore.
When I got my first BlackBerry, probably around 7 years ago, the novelty of always-on and instant e-mail was a cool one. I didn’t have to interface with a full computer to communicate, and it fed the impulsive nature of information adoption and consumption. This was “cool”, as in I would be the first to know what’s going on, and would be able to inform conversation and decision making. But this was largely e-mail, SMS wasn’t yet popular in the United States, and turning off the Blackberry just meant a pause from work, and the home life wasn’t really as affected. Sure, it was annoying to answer an e-mail in personal life, but these were one-off dialogues that usually took mere seconds.
But now, with the rise of Facebook, and Twitter and other social networks, it’s gone from “always-on” work, to “always-on” life. The Truman Show analogy not withstanding, it’s extremely difficult to turn off the “online” life, since now, the “online” life has met the “work” life in many cases, and the only one left, the “home” life begins to suffer. And so, “the battle for who could care less” (thank you, Ben Folds Five), is “always-on” too. This battle involves real-time prioritzation of tasks, people and results at a blistering pace, and those who “care less” in this analysis, usually lose to those who would “care more” at that given moment. These interactions all contribute to “who you are” – but which bucket (“personal”, “work” or “online) they fall into – grossly unclear.
Now, even with the never-ending pace of technology, some immortal truths remain. We have a limited amount of hours in the day. Our brain can only handle so much. Human nature remains pretty much the same. People tend not to react terribly differently when we present them with the same situation.
So, what do we do? How do you handle “avatar exhaustion” – does it take you away from what you love? Is it really possible to unplug?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.