|Leaping from the Page. Andrea Paterson. Amaranth Road Studio. 2012|
Let's travel back in time a bit, to a day before computers and the internet. One might argue that all people lived in the "real" world at that point since they had no access to non-physical spaces. But consider that we have had writing in the form of books and letters for a very long time. Books are one of the earliest technologically mediated spaces where ideas are delivered via a technology (pages bound together in a cover). The book is a space highly charged with human interactions. Open a book and you immediately have a host of participants--the author, the characters or subjects, the reader--who intersect in the page-space to create a collaborated reality. Read a letter and you have a situation where a writer is constructing a particular version of their life and self for a particular reader. How different is this from the internet where Facebook, Twitter, and realms of other social media applications allow people to present a version of themselves for consumption? The online space becomes the point of intersection where creator and viewer collaborate to assign value to a life. The author posts something about the amazing dinner they whipped up, someone else "likes" the post, and a sense of validation is created for the author. Facebook, love it or hate it, is a real place where real interactions are occurring. They are interactions with real world consequences, as has so tragically been illustrated in the case of Amanda Todd.
It's hard to say where all these online interactions will lead, but I don't think we can see them as "fake." We are reinventing what it means to be human every day and where once you just had to wear the right clothes and have the right degrees to put up a proper personal front, now you also need a website and content for your blog and a daily list of dazzling life events to post to Facebook so that the rest of the world will think that your days are perpetually glorious and free from sorrow. I find that in the digital world people write who they wish they were, creating a divergent, over the rainbow, reality where success is marked in "likes," "pins," and "tweets." It is now easy to browse thousands of photos of your friends doing fun and interesting things until your own life seems like a sad conglomeration of tiny failures and insignificant successes. When we can suddenly compare our measly talents to the talents of all the other people on the planet, it's hard not to despair of ever standing out from the crowd.
The spaces that we live in have expanded exponentially along with the vast universe that is the internet. We may not like these spaces, but they're very, very real. What we do in them affects other people and also affects the construction of our individual lives. If Virginia Woolf were alive today she would probably call for a room of one's own along with a website of one's own. Identity is tied to ownership of space, whether it's physical or digital. It is too early to say how we will be transformed by our use of online spaces, but I believe that it's dangerous to toss those digital lives aside as sleight of hand and trickery. I wait with interest to see what we will become.