“We can spend our lives letting the world tell us who we are. Sane or insane. Saints or sex addicts. Heroes or victims. Letting history tell us how good or bad we are. Letting our past decide our future. Or we can decide for ourselves. And maybe it’s our job to invent something better.”
– Chuck Palahniuk, Choke
One aspect of writing this blog that has fascinated me is how every time something happens to me now, I wonder if I could write about it. It has changed how I view just about everything – is this only interesting to me or is it generally interesting? And why? Sometimes, these musings are a bit of a stretch and nothing comes of it. Other times, the potential structure of a post is so clear that I find myself frantically typing initial notes on the tube on the way home or secretly when my concentration really should be elsewhere.
Earlier this week, I went to the theatre with my godmother to see The Nether at the Duke of York’s Theatre in London and had exactly one of these light bulb moments. I would strongly recommend the play, if only for the discussion that it prompted, both with my godmother and within myself. I don’t think it’s giving away too many spoilers to say that the plot is set a future where the majority of interactions take place in the Nether, a progression from the internet where avatars of ourselves work, study and play in a virtual world. The real world, or In-World, still exists but offers almost nothing compared to its simulated counterpart. The story involves the interrogation of a gentlemen who has created a world that is so sensational and so accurate that it feels like reality, but is a place where its visitors can safely and anonymously engage in murderous and paedophilic activities. What are the consequences, the man asks, of interactions in this virtual world? Who is hurt? Who is affected? But how can anything have meaning without consequence, the interrogator counters. How can no one be hurt when the fantasy is so real? I won’t go into the plot any further, but it was horrifying and fascinating, and definitely worth seeing.
Discussing it with my godmother afterwards, she enjoyed it but did not grasp the potential reality of it. She essentially dabbles in social media with a rarely visited Facebook profile, and couldn’t see the attraction of an online existence in this manner. But I did, and I was faintly horrified in recognition. Have I not found an online world where I am anonymous and act in a way that I don’t in reality? Am I not already creating an alternate persona for myself that is hidden from the people who would claim to know me best?
I started this blog because I wanted to create some sort of order to my chaotic thoughts, and felt that forcing them into a structure that I’d be happy for others to read would be better than letting them rattle around in my head. It’s essentially the only way to let them out anyway as I can’t seem to talk aloud about important things. It becomes almost a physical impossibility – the pressure of the need to communicate and to speak holds the words in, like water pressure holding a door closed in a flood, and I say nothing. None of these thoughts are that big or life changing, but are important enough to me that I struggle to talk coherently or with confidence. I also fancied trying my hand at fictional writing, but that’s another story…
So I created an online persona to do this talking for me. Every Day Livvy is confident where comfortable but can be staggeringly shy and awkward with pretty much everything else. The Other Livvy, on the other hand, posts pictures of her boobs online, gets turned on reading and writing filthy stories and generally knows what she wants. And the two don’t meet…anyone who knows about this blog has meet me through it; no one I knew before has any idea.
As I was trying to explain to my godmother about the possibilities within social media and how easy it is to be anonymous, I realised how much I have changed because of my own alter ego. She discusses with horror the easy access to porn and wonders how future generations of children will be protected, and I respond by telling her of the outrage at blog hosts pulling adult content and the risks to freedom of expression. My perceptions and opinions are different now, but I am more able to discuss them. I am more comfortable with myself, and because of that I am starting to be more open and I am finding my voice in real life…although it may not yet be that obvious to anyone else!
The sordid plot of The Nether, using anonymity online to try to excuse unacceptable and criminal behaviour, made me question exactly why I keep my blog secret despite viewing it as so beneficial. It’s not that I’m ashamed or embarrassed. I am having the most amazing time interacting with the people I have met online, and the confidence it has given me is certainly extending out into my real life. I feel I am a better person because of my secret life…but it is still a secret.
I justify it by reminding myself that there are very few people who I confide in anyway, but I don’t know why I haven’t been able to tell them this. For some, it’s easy – my housemate would judge the quality of what I write, rather than the topic, so I don’t want her to know as I’m still not convinced that what I write is any good, and I do worry that the GMC wouldn’t be that happy with my extra-curricular postings so that’s all work friends quickly excluded…but I don’t know why I haven’t told my sister or my closest friends. Is it because of an ingrained modesty left over from a somewhat conservative upbringing? Or because other people knowing would change what I could write about? Am I alone in separating myself into two like this? How many people are truly open about their blogs? How is that? Are pseudonyms to hide from the general public or from specific people?
The Nether showed online anonymity being used as a shield to protect the characters from prosecution. It was not a positive message and it freaked me out a little! It made me feel like I was at the top of a slippery slope, at risk of sliding further into an online existence that was becoming more and more separated from reality and where I would become less and less recognisable to my real life friends. After all, secrets are generally shameful, aren’t they?
But luckily, as I haven’t had time to finish this until now, I’ve been thinking a lot about it…and I’ve changed my mind. Clearly, not all secrets are shameful. Some are necessary. Sometimes secrets like this allow more time, sometimes they provide the safety to change and explore without having to do so in front of the people who have prevented or limited that change before. Yes, there may be those who do use an online secret identity to conceal terrible behaviour, but they are a minority and would exist even without the concealment of the internet.
So I don’t think I’ll keep my blog secret forever. I don’t really want to be two people in two worlds. It’s still a pretty big step though…