My boyfriend says no to social media. It’s not for lack of extroversion—I’ve seen him go out every night for three weeks and remain appallingly convivial—or any sort of counterculture bent. He just finds all of it creepy, which I find understandable, and consequently he’s off all networks and invisible even on Gchat. To keep up with friends, he prefers in-person boozing or long phone dates conducted while walking our dog around the neighborhood.

But he started checking my Twitter a few months ago after I kept forgetting to tell him when I’d written things online. Recently he was in Denver for an architecture conference, and one morning, he texted me. “Nice tweet,” beeped my phone.

“Huh,” I said aloud. An hour previously, I’d typed: I wanna do so many bad things when my boyfriend’s out of town for the weekend, like dye my dog tri-color like a Bomb Pop. 

“It was a joke,” I texted back to him.

“I know, but it doesn’t sound like you,” beeped the phone.

I reread the tweet, which sounded a lot like me to me. Has my boyfriend been talking to another me—one that would hesitate before making that joke? I was having trouble finding her. I realized that I had compartmentalized “things I say on Twitter” and “things that the man I live with will ever think about,” and I wondered if I’d done the same with my actual self.

I am not overboard with this stuff. I have 600 tweets, a few pages on Tumblr, a weeks-old Instagram account and a fairly dormant Facebook. But it says something about how far I’ve shifted towards online mediation that I genuinely don’t think that’s a lot.  

I scanned back through my Twitter: dick joke, dick joke, music thing, Applebee’s joke, dick joke, music thing, boyfriend out of town joke. Maybe he’s right, I thought. This isn’t really me. This is the Online Self. But then I considered the previous week and realized how much of my mental real estate had in truth been occupied by music and dick jokes.

All my life I’ve been a constitutionally open book. When I was little, feelings moved across my face like cloud shadows on a field, and still at the bar I’ll spill my secrets within minutes. Online, this transparency has continued, except now there’s a record, and either I’m unconsciously constructing myself for this medium or the medium is altering me, because I appear to be having more dick jokes than feelings. 

I’ve always been a little bit like this, but not so fully. Three years ago, I was so idealistic that the news made me cry. Then I was mostly off the Internet for my year of Peace Corps. I remember coming back right in time for SXSW and prickling at the iPhones everywhere, the privileged vapidity of everything held up as cool. Even a year ago, I swore I’d never get on Twitter. Now I am a blogger and not very idealistic, and I communicate like breathing, like filling a tiny glass with a bright dumb thought and flinging it screen-ward, shooting sparks into a sea of ephemera. Some days I can feel myself drawing towards the sun of the Internet like a stupid little flower.

At bottom I’m not worried. Surely I can determine my own dick joke to feeling ratio. But sometimes I do wonder about this life spent pouring out the self so totally. When it’s over, will we feel grateful, or maybe empty? Who, after a lifetime on Twitter, would want to be a ghost?

jia tolentino

Jia Tolentino is a contributing editor at The Hairpin whose work has also appeared in The Awl, The Billfold, The New York Times, Brevity and Carve Magazine.  

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