As with most kids, in the US and apparently overseas as well, my experience with technology and computers centered largely around video games. I can’t recall exactly when we got our first personal computer for the house, but it had to be somewhere between 2002-2003. While I used my Playstation and Nintendo 64 mainly for fun, leisurely games such as Spiderman, Capcom Street Fighter, Super Smash Bros., and others, the computer was largely reserved for educational games. Before the personal computer entered our world, my mom would buy me and my cousins various learning books, from the Pre-K level onward, to practice the things we were learning. The computer allowed her to simply continue this trend digitally.
To this day I have stacks of computer games for several grade levels in Math/Reading Blaster, typing games, and even a game that was meant to teach me about my asthma. It was these games that really shaped my initial experience with this type of technology. At this period in my life, computers were meant almost exclusively for the transference of knowledge, or tied somehow to my education. The only other places I used computers were at school for computer classes (mainly learning how to type) and at my after-school program where, once you had finished all of your homework and reading, you were permitted to play games on the computer.
The next stage of my interactions with technology came in the form of social media. When it comes to social media, it seems I have always been consistently behind the game. All of my friends had AIM accounts well before a friend of mine took pity on me in the 6th grade created my “ggoodggurl132” persona. AIM was useful because before I had a phone, it was the way I communicated with many of my friends after school or during winter and summer breaks. I had created an email account when I was about 10, but it seemed weird to email my friends all the time. For some reason I remember still communicating with a select few people on AIM in high school, but heaven knows why. The next step on my social media ladder was MySpace, which I, once again, arrived late to the party for. All throughout middle school my classmates were using MySpace as ways to connect with one another (and apparently other random people…) and I felt left out. At the time, my middle school classmates were also connected to BlackPlanet, Xanga, and Migenete; social media sites meant exclusively for black, asian, and Latino people, respectively. I can’t recall my reaction thoughts to the existence of these sites, but I don’t think they were negative. I think I just took it as another social media site, just specific to being able to connect o people with your community. Nevertheless, my mom watched a lot of dateline back then and was very averse to social media, so I had to choose wisely. So when I was 13 I begged my mom to let me make one and she finally did. I was so excited to get to create my sparkly background and put together the playlist that would play when people visited my page and I remember what a big deal it was to be in/at the top of someone’s top 5. I can’t remember it very well, but I think that was also my first introduction to mild coding, as I remember having to use codes to tell the program what color you wanted various things to be on your profile. Nevertheless, this excitement didn’t last very long since as soon as I got to high school, I realized that everyone had moved on to Facebook. In the spring of my sophomore year my friends once again took pity on me and helped me create a Facebook account. This time I didn’t ask my mom’s permission, and she was not very happy about this. She told me to use a fake last name, because she didn’t want me putting my information out on the internet. She would often ask to see my Facebook, and ask me how I knew the various people that were listed as my friends. It was completely unacceptable to friend anyone who I didn’t actually know in real life.
My mom’s apprehension came less from a fear or privacy, or lack of rights to what you put on the internet, and more from a fear that I would talk to people that I didn’t know and, for some incomprehensible reason, try to meet them in person. This was never my goal, but I think for many of us our beginning fear of technology came largely from the stories of young children/teenagers, usually girls, joining chatrooms or talking to people who misrepresenting themselves for malicious purposes. While I’m sure this is still a legitimate fear, it seems that our concerns have now moved largely to privacy and being able to protect our own information. It’s also a matter of how closely our online identities are now tied to our real life identities, such that we need to be careful what persona our social media sites give off to potential employers or school admissions committees or even our mothers who may have recently friended us.
As Nathan Jerguson notes in his article The Disconnectionists, many scholars are concerned with the topic of the “online self” the inauthentic digital persona we create for social media that is restricting us from interacting with people IRL (in real life) as our true authentic self. As Jerguson presents them, the disconnectionist believe that if we could just disconnect from social media we could get back to this true version of ourselves. But Erving Goffman in The Presentation of Self in 1954 discussed the classic sociological theory that ever second of our lives is a performance, put on for various audiences using various props and performative strategies in various settings. If this is the case is there ever really one, true, “real” self? It might seem that our ability to present one uniform and acceptable self might decrease with the number of social media sites we participate in (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, blogposts, etc.), but I prefer to view it as increasing our ability to present our multiple selves. All these sites can be used for different purposes and in some ways can exist in entirely different worlds. In other words they all have different audiences, and I think this is a good thing. There is a feeling of freedom that should come with not being tied down to one identity, or persona, and that is the attitude with which I approach my recent interaction with the digital world, which comes largely through social media not only as a way to connect with friends, or to garner valuable information, but also as a freedom of expression. In this way, my experience with technology is currently shaping who I am. Largely through twitter as a way to stay updated on what’s going on in popular culture, the world, and particularly in the black community. As opposed to what seems to be the general consensus, I feel much more connected to the world than I did before the Internet came into my life.