I tweet, therefore I am.
Twitter isn't just an activity or an outlet. It's a way of life. In the same way that camera phones now block sightlines at shows, Twitter mediates my daily existence. Did I say something witty? Might as well throw it up there. Am I watching a basketball game or an awards show? Live-tweet or die, brah.
During the Oscars, a friend accused me of being more present on Twitter than I was IRL. It made me a little sad until I realized that I wanted it that way. I would be utterly ashamed of my relationship with Twitter if there weren't so many others with the same problem. And at least my vices are limited to Twitter, Facebook for a change of pace and Instagram on the rare occasions that my brain switches from the verbal to visual.
I know that's only the tip of the social media iceberg now that Snapchat, Tinder and other next gen platforms make some people even more preoccupied with their web lives. Or, to make it slightly more terrifying, have let the Internet shape and control their IRL. I'm old and less advanced. By hanging onto a scrap of humanity, I'm holding back our species.
All of this is scary, but it's also progress. Things are a lot less weird than they used to be. A decade ago, the Internet was a far-off place. It was where you played and pretended. It was fantastic and over the top. It was where we spilled our guts or entertained dreams of, say, making music or writing.
When it intersected (or crossed over) into real life, it was cause for alarm. Something really good or something really bad was about to go down and we were utterly caught off-guard. We were different online. Either you were way more fake or way more honest than you'd ever be in real life. The important thing was that we were able to maintain control. We set the boundaries and the Internet took care of enforcing them.
The last time I thought about this stuff, the Internet had become a staging area for IRL, or an after the fact way of enhancing it. It was where we made plans or let the world know how they went. It was where we met people and strengthened our bonds with them. I could live with that. You could still stop and breathe. We could, in theory, go a week without the Internet. It was hard, but we weren't rendered helpless.
I often ask myself if I'm more me or less me on the Internet. That question is a relic, a holdover from a time when it made sense to draw those distinctions.
These days, the Internet—and for that matter, any app, platform or mode of communication that lives in our mobiles—has become the model for how we live. From second to second, we need technology, not so we know what to do, but to make sense of and structure whatever is right in front of us. Instead of speaking, I tweet or post. I see things as prospective hits on the 'Gram. I say stuff with emojis that can't be expressed in any other language. Every day, I say hello to folks who I only really ever interact with on social media.
There's nothing imaginary here. The Internet is an extension of who we are and what we do. It's not a place to hide or take stock of things. It's another place to live out your life. IRL is dead, but RL is more important than ever. I don't know if the Internet has taken over IRL or IRL has assimilated the Internet and it almost doesn't make a difference.
I often ask myself if I'm more me or less me on the Internet. That question is a relic, a holdover from a time when it made sense to draw those distinctions. It's like wondering who the real you is, Workplace You or Around Friends You. The answer is both, or neither.
I have a bad habit of going on Twitter rants and I like to think that's not me, a clueless, excitable weirdo. Except, I sort of am. And if Twitter brings out the worst in me, it's still inescapably me. As long as I can't go a second without tweeting, I'm incapable of pretending that there's some separation between Web Me and IRL Me, or that Twitter Me is somehow fake or misleading. You have to own that shit because there's no Internet anymore that will wholly take responsibility or run interference.
I guess that's scary, but that I also know that this version of things is an adjustment for me. If I didn't know any better? I wouldn't expect to be shielded or think I could carve up my life into several distinct spheres. In fact, I think this evolution of the web is a good thing, since it does remind us that we can't pretend to be fifteen different people that depend on context to come to life.
You are who you are and there's no way around it. The Internet is just one more place where that comes out. It can't turn you into something you're not. It can only expose what's already there, even if you never knew it before.
Bethlehem Shoals is a writer living in Portland. You can follow him on Twitter here.