Plan B: My online persona is not who I really am

Bonnie Wong | Daily Trojan

I used to lose sleep over Instagram captions. If that isn’t the most millennial thing you’ve heard said, let me reiterate: I would often spend nights tossing and turning over a witty one-liner soon to be read by my meager 400-something followers because I wanted my posts to scream “clever,” “amusing” and “cool.”

I have a total of three and a half accounts all dedicated to showcasing various facets of my life. My main account is filled with heavily washed out photos of me and my friends shot in various locations. The second is my finsta (a portmanteau of fake and Insta) in which I aggregate a mess of pensive-looking selfies I’m too embarrassed to show the general public, and dark poetry I write in the wee hours of the morning. The third is a study account dedicated to showing off my calligraphy, stationery supplies and journal spreads. And lastly, the half account is a shared fan page I co-created with a pal 400 miles away in an attempt to nourish our long-distance friendship with memes and annoy all our mutual friends.

It sounds utterly excessive, but the fact that Instagram specifically has a function allowing you to toggle between multiple accounts at once indicates that my practices are not as uncommon as you might think. I used to agonize over the way my accounts displayed themselves and would often delete photos or deactivate my profiles altogether. While I don’t track my analytics or fixate on the follower to following ratio, my maintenance of a curated theme filled with long, thoughtful captions to accompany heavily filtered photos is borderline obsessive. Last month, I finally took the necessary step and deleted all social media apps, including Instagram, off my phone.

All my accounts point to the idea that I tend to compartmentalize various aspects of my life and present a specific version of myself depending on who my audience is. I struggled with striking a balance between seeming put-together yet genuine online. I scorned accounts that fixated on merely the good things, believing that they discredited all the gray areas life has to offer. However, I fell into the same traps that I ridiculed. I wanted people to see me in a specific light, and I wrestled with how to go about doing so.

Joscelyn Stocks | Daily Trojan

As a result, my main account reflected the few highlights I had to show. You know, the ones that made it seem like I was having fun all the time. When I realized how fake that looked, I crafted my finsta to counter it, priding myself on its teenage angst aesthetic. Still, I felt confined to the walls of the little squares that made up my feed because none of these were whole representations of me as a person. I wasn’t as happy as I seemed, nor was I constantly in the throes of an existential crisis. Things weren’t always one way or another. Accordingly, I felt compelled to churn out content for the masses that made me appear as if I was living my best life, yet still aimed for 100 percent realism. I wanted to be known beyond my online persona, but failed to see that the only way for someone to truly do so was by getting to know me in person.

I believe this is further indicative of how I present myself in general. I often have trouble opening up to people at first. I’ve been told I seem quiet, though my closest friends would contest that. I am a bit awkward (but still fun, I promise) and often bumble through my sentences, emphasizing my speech with erratic arm movements. Throughout my life, I’ve been labeled all sorts of things by people who have written me off by the less-than-stellar first impressions I leave. However, after I warm up toward someone I can then become more authentic.

In short, what you see is not what you get from the start, which couldn’t be fully conveyed through my online presence. Social media merely gives fleeting glimpses into my life and never goes beyond a first impression, despite my attempts to depict my multidimensionalism.

So until my 29,355 personalities reconcile with each other, I’ve chosen to stay offline and get some much needed shut-eye.

Bonnie Wong is a sophomore majoring in journalism. Her column, “Plan B,” runs every other Thursday.