I don’t know about you, but the internet has given me some very interesting insights into the nature of the human spirit. What I’ve been thinking about recently is how the internet affects how we interact socially, both online and offline.
The thought I’ve been specifically pondering: Is personality arbitrary?
The first murmurings of this thought came when I was singing in the opera chorus for La Traviatta a few years back. There is a certain detachment to the self when taking part in a theatrical performance. The drama onstage plays in stark contrast to the reality of quick changes and dressing room gossip. Going so quickly from a noble aristocrat to a vulgar college student leaves a certain ambiguity of personality.
Something about having the costumes of other, fictional people, while talking and acting like “myself” got me thinking. How much of our actions are similarly contrived? Why do singers act like singers? What makes a composer a composer? While I do believe we have fundamental qualities that are latent in our souls, but many of the things we take seriously as tenets of our personality are willingly worn, a costume for an unseen stage. How many of our “fundamental” personality traits fall away when we are put into a different social environment?
Add the internet into the social mixture, and the recipe for personality becomes comically arbitrary. Put into a virtual space with little or no rules of social expectation, people take on different personalities at will. It’s amazing how many of our finely tuned social mores disintegrate on the internet, behind the protection of a Youtube account. It’s no coincidence that MMORPGs and social media is popular in our society; they give an outlet for people to become the people they want to be.
This liberalism of personality is, of course, a double-edged sword. The same tool that gives personal and artistic freedom also serves as a mask of stealth for racists and pedophiles. Opportunity requires responsibility, something that humanity has a hard time accepting. Rather than be pessimistic, however, I sit firmly on the side of reckless optimism with this opportunity. The internet, despite all it’s rough edges, is a tool of true freedom. Why be lonesome for your heroes? Be your own hero. Imagine who you want to be, and live it. It only takes a small jump to take your newfound personality out of the binary plane, and into the waking world.
The thing I’m most interested in seeing is how people raised on the internet take it’s lessons into the real world. Will the freedom of the online world make a transition into the waking world, or will unbounded expression forever be bound by the chains of SMTP relays and search engine queries? I for one hope for the former. There are too many opportunities, too many ways to remake yourself, in body, mind, and spirit to not become the person you want to be. The internet should teach us that social paradigms are just simple molds put in place to keep people from bumping into the edges of reality, and not hard and fast laws. Finding your true passions, your true voice, is only a Google search or a tweet away. Once a passion makes it to the stage of a thought, it’s only a matter of time before it is born into the world by action.
So the question is: Who do you want to be?
Mr. David Benson is a social media analyst and coffeephile. He currently lives in New York City and works as an analyst for Mashwork, a social media analytics company.