Cooler online, digital identities

As the Brad Paisley song says some of us are much cooler online but is that a good thing.  We were asked to read an article about a young university student, its about her digital identity.  This article really resonated with me for a variety of reasons but first let me tell you about this young lady.

Her name was Madison Halloran, she was 19 years old and a first year university student.  She was also a star athlete.  How do I know this, from the article of course but if you just looked at the pictures in the article you would come up with a similar identity.  You would also think from the pictures she posted that she was like any other 19 year old living away from home, having fun, enjoying life, she had friends and was successful in sports. Her pictures, which were from her instagram account tell this story, it seems to be a happy story.  But it wasn’t.  What this digital identity didn’t tell those who thought they “knew” her was that she was struggling, thinking about switching university and felt so overwhelmed.  So it was a surprise when those who “knew” her through her posts and photos, found out she jumped off a parking garage and killed herself.  Now you are probably thinking that those closest to her, her parents, sisters etc didn’t know how bad it was either.  It would be true, but they did know she was prone to depression, her dad had been encouraging her to find a therapist, was willing to help her change schools, so her real life family knew she was struggling just not how severely.  The article says “everyone presents an edited version of life on social media”

What’s wrong with showing an edited version of life, showing our best side, nothing I suppose.  We all want people to see the best of us, but how or does it affect the people viewing the best of us, seeing us on all the time.  I would argue it does and even the article says that we consume people’s filter lives while living ours unedited.  It is so true.

Now let me share why this article resonated with me so much, I am not 19, I am not an athlete I have nothing in common with this young girl.  I do though relate very much to consuming people’s filtered lives and comparing my messy, unedited life to them.

I used to homeschool my children and it is a daunting task.  I read blogs from other homeschooling moms for tips and tricks on how to get everything done, cook meals, cover all the subjects, do cool school projects, keep my house clean, the whole deal.  I would read these blogs, do what they told me worked, and try and try and I was still a hot struggling mess.  I kept reading the blogs and kept trying, wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn’t get it together and keep it together, like the mom who was baking fresh bread, homeschooling 6,8 or 10 children and had an immaculate house.  It took me a long time in my late 20’s to realize that this wasn’t the whole truth. Those digital identities left me feeling inadequate and constantly focused on my shortcomings and I failed to see my successes.  Those digital identities, digital lives that are meant to be encouraging often have the opposite effect.  After reading this article, I wonder how many other young girls who were struggling and followed Madison, were made to feel worse because she looked like she had it altogether.

I think one of the most important things we can do to be good online role models for our students and young people is to let them see the messy side of our lives sometimes.  I don’t mean that we need to air our dirty laundry.  Balanced posting about stellar days when everything goes right and also sharing about the days where nothing seems to working according to plan will teach others that we all live messy lives and its ok.  Try to keep our digital identities real.

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