By Nick Dilonardo
In Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, he wrote of the importance of being aware of the difference between one’s private and public selves.
For Franklin, this translated into the identity he held as a writer – under pen-names, at times – that he maintained working for New England newspapers. Oscar Wilde understood the importance of being earnest, Franklin, it can safely be said, understood the importance of appearing to have little ego. It made me imagine what if Franklin had a Facebook.
Our ego has a whole new playground through social media. There is us as we Instagram. There is the self from which we tweet. For our future, for our jobs, for our lives as we move forward, we must dutifully check ourselves and our online identities, each and every one of them.
We can’t have a profile picture with a drink. You can’t have people making crass jokes on your page, perhaps, and certainly nothing exposing the use of narcotics. Daring to Instagram yourself smoking, perhaps – drinking, if you’re even younger – can be a grasping attempt toward death. It’s our death drive, that James Dean-sean impulse to risk flirting with consequences, be damned. To the most brazen go the most future possible doors closed. Employers check your social media profiles. Ex-girlfriends and boyfriends aren’t the only ones stalking you online anymore.
Our lives, as we live them, and especially as we photograph them, are living themselves out online. We live it out first – then we remember it on Facebook. We tweet it out – we connect, we rekindle. We tweet about going out. We tweet about breaking up. We Instagram our breakfast. Or do we?
If we read an article on the Washington Post online, it’s broadcast. Look: somebody read an article about China. Isn’t he smart? It’s like using Spotify to say something about yourself – look what I listen to – do you think I’m cool? Aren’t I unique? Is anybody watching to that which I’m listening?
It’s just like that Percy Bysshe Shelley poem. We are like Ozymandias, king of kings, crying out “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!” It’s our attempt to demonstrate to ourselves and to others that we matter, and that we do indeed in fact exist. We did go out this weekend. We do have friends. Someone is watching, and they “like” me.
It’s like the week before last’s Modern Family episode, when they tried selling their house with a pitch perfected through stalking Facebook. They found out what the prospective buyer “liked.” They put up the requisite Chicago Blackhawks memorabilia. They told him their backyard had a “view” of the tower used to film “Die Hard.”
We won’t have to worry or fret should old acquaintances be forgotten. When we are old and wrinkled, we’ll able to look online, and remember: There I was checking in at Dairy Queen. There I was with my sorority sisters in Vegas. It might just illicit a grin. It just may be nice to remember. But remembering, as nobel-prize winning writer Harold Pinter once explained, isn’t so simple or easy.
“The past,” Pinter said, “is what you remember, imagine you remember, convince yourself you remember, or pretend you remember.”
We are who we remember ourselves to be. It’s why in therapy they work so much on your past. Sometimes the trick is forgiving yourself. Sometimes the trick is remembering what you’re forgetting.
But, lucky us – when it comes to remembering, we may not always have our memories of Paris. But we will always have Facebook.