Girl Talk: The preservation of the self on the everyday internet

Girl Talk: The preservation of the self on the everyday internet

We need boundaries in life to truly flourish. That I know now. When you are young, boundaries seem like such a drag. Freedom is the succor you think you want. The bastion of personal happiness. But with all that FREEDOM comes choices. Too many choices.  

Without structure, without guidelines, without rules, we flounder, sinking forever deeper into the man-made vortex until we can barely climb our way out of the hole. And so it is with the internet. Another link to follow, more news to chase, another morsel of your life handed over to the insatiably hungry mouth of the worldwide web... in this amazing race, there's not a lot of grace. How can one ever hope to keep pace?

Help me! Help me!

The more you give, the less you have in store; those sturdy stepping stones that allow you to climb out of the big black hole and into 'real life' are not to be found online at all. Which is why, for the past 12 months or so, I've been giving less of myself online, as I've squirreled away something for myself, for my husband, my family, my friends, my psychologist, my church, my community, and turned increasingly, lovingly, head-over-healsingly to God.

As one fellow blogger succinctly put it, I got a life. But, more than that, I got a deeper faith. And clarity of purpose. And life, in turn, got better.

Hence, what you now see on GWAS is very much an edit. As with a magazine. It is here that I place the things I'm thinking about. Mentally chewing over. And while I'll add the odd personal flourish, an op-ed spin, a picture, a rant, as blogs are nothing if not subjective things, I don't want to tell you about all and sundry in my personal life, nor spend all my time with my MacBook. It was never my intention, with a pseudonym that connotes one who is young and free such as 'Girl With a Satchel', to be so very... stationary.

Granted, I was inhibited by a very ugly and socially crippling disease. But, for me, it was very much a case of the chicken and the egg. When I am part of the community out there – indeed, several smaller communities, in each where I can express a part, if not all, of me – the happier I be. Work places, church places, cafes, book shops, bargain stores, dance classes, libraries... in each of them I find me, relationally.

For a long time, GWAS itself was not a place conducive to being true to the core of me: an evolving woman of Christian faith grappling with theology in the context of reporting on a very secular glossy media industry, as well as negotiating a feminism deep-rooted but wrapped up in a personal history that needed exploration, unfolding, confirmation, validity. I would often retreat to a place up my favourite jacaranda tree and think, "Why can't I just be me?".

Compounding the issue was the physical inability to form coherent, rational thoughts owing to calorific deprivation and electrolyte hyperactivity; as well as a lifelong inhibition around feeling oh-so secondary. Happy to usurp the self, to vanish into the ether, and let those glossier "others" take their rightful place. Humility, no; humiliation. And, oh, that terrible feeling of fakery. And the inability to admit defeat. And the soul-suckingness of spiritual infidelity.

"This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!" 
 (Polonious, Hamlet)

"It is not easy to overcome the sense of passivity and fatalism that relegate us to spectator status but there is certain pleasure in engagement," writes Megan Johnston in 'The Seclusion Illusion' for The Sydney Morning Herald. "To belong is to understand our place in the world - it is to discard fear and be part of the conversation, to feel connected and mattered...Yet the notion of engagement is more than being in the thick of things. It's also about making a contribution."

Without knowing WHO WE ARE, and what we were created to be, in addition to the history of our legacy (the family tree and the fruit of the tree in Eden), however can we exist in confidence? In peace? No wonder, I thought, Jesus did not start, until 30, his own ministry, calling to his aid friends who could believe in his mission and take it very seriously. And He, did he not, take himself off when things got all too much, to spend time, in peace, with his father?

The media landscape is dynamic; changing by the second. A new story. A thought bubble. A full-blown revolution of historical proportions. To be "tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming", as Paul said to the Ephesians, can be wearying, if one does not stand in the strength of their conviction. Which is not to dismiss a new thought, a fancy, a celebration of human intellect and ingenuity; but to remain firm, grounded, sound in the very fabric from which we are woven. To know God is to know the genuine self.

Said David in the Psalm 139, "You searched me, Lord, and you know me... your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me, even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you... Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." 

A few months ago, I read a piece recommended by social commentator Mark Sayers that prescribed rules for Christian life on the internet. It is terribly sensible in its recommendations, particularly for those with easily offended sensibilities (and, my, how sensitive I've become). Writes Douglas Groothius for the Christian Research Journal:

"Facebook and related social media tend to foster the overexposure of the underdeveloped self by facilitating the mass distribution of text and images related to oneself. The problem is that one may expose a self that is not mature enough for that exposure. As the Book of Proverbs so often says, the wise hold their peace, but fools proclaim their folly. One should choose confidants carefully. Some aspects of one’s life should be concealed. There is much folly, frivolity, and triviality in social networking. Not everyone should know everything about everyone. While secrecy wrongly conceals vices or wrongdoing, confidentiality is prudent because it shields things that need to be kept out of view."

While "self-preservation" itself as a concept is not necessarily in alignment with the gospel, which calls on Christians to shed the old self in favour of the new in service to God, this process of reckoning, cleansing, knowing and being brings you back to a self that is no less you, but an edited back version; free from the detritus of a life 30 years lived, with all its fruits from the Tree of Life. Even this newer self, not yet fully developed, still requires renewing daily.

I think it is possible to have an authentic representation of your true self online, to not be secretive or deceptive or false, while maintaining a whole and separate self away from social media that does not require full disclosure. Playing your 'public self', which may be construed as the 'Professional You', your every waking opinion also need not be aired; sometimes such things must stew, in that old-fashioned feature-writing way, before seeing the light of day.

"Our civic space is a contested one, open to territorial combat and personal attacks," notes Johnston. "No doubt each of us has limits to how much interpersonal conflict we can tolerate - and occasional respite gives us the strength to face it - but there are dangers in letting our longing for seclusion or escapism become a fortress."

The key therein lies in prescribing yourself a set of rules, an editorial template aligned with your values and executed with diligence, with the humility to acknowledge that as your own editor, with human frailties, you will occasionally break them, and others, being human, might try to break you. As I turn more to Him than the Tree, the tune might sound off to some, but to me it's the one sound I know to be true; and the only way I am happy to be.

"Through many dangers, toils and snares;
we have already come.
'Twas Grace that brought us safe thus far;
and Grace will lead us home." 
- John Newton, "Amazing Grace"

See also:
Megan Johnston on The Seclusion Illusion
Rachel Hills on The Presentation of the Self on the Everyday Internet

Girl With a Satchel


Anonymous said...

This was a beautiful post, Erica. Thank you for writing it. I've noticed you're writing less now but when you do it's so much richer, if that makes any sense!