I am an editor. I edit everything I write, meticulously. I will edit these three lines ten times before I deem them acceptable. I have already edited twice since I started writing this. Anything I write that anyone could possibly see goes through a wringer of cut and pastes. I agonize over Facebook posts, emails, tweets—do I sound cool enough, do I sound down to earth, is this a stupid thing to say? I edit my punctuation, maybe a dash here, oh, no, I already used a dash, try rewriting the phrase and breaking it up with a semi-colon, there; perfect.
For this, I blame the Internet.
Most of my life has been on virtual display. I’ve been building and shedding identities on the Internet since I was twelve. Some old white people working at irrelevant magazines dubbed my generation Generation Y, but perhaps Generation WWW would be more appropriate. The first ones to really take to a second life online, we’ve incited plenty of Lifetime movies on the dangers of chat rooms and the perils of cyber bullying. My mom used to sigh in amazement of the stupidity of it all—how could you put such intimate information on display for millions of strangers to read? What did we expect?
Because of this exposure, there have been countless horror stories that all say the same thing—the Internet is written in stone and nothing can ever really be deleted. Future employers now check Facebooks, your mom might find that suggestive picture you sent to your jerk ex-boyfriend on some random website, and there’s always a chance someone Googling you could find embarrassing accounts of your life before you were cool (or at least trying to be cool).
For instance, a Xanga account.
Before the Internet morphed into a dangerous place full of mistakes and regrets—before the horror stories—my peers and I were realizing the draw of life on display. There was—still is—something so enticing about the potential eyes of the 2 billion people surfing the web. No one was listening to us in real life; we were dorky twelve year olds with feelings, full of experiences millions had had before us and grown out of. The expansiveness of the Internet made us feel like what we were saying could be worthwhile somewhere.
It was the early 2000s, just around the time LiveJournal and Xanga got big. Some people took to writing dramatic entries, or fan fiction. Others, like myself, recorded their every day lives with such dedication to tedium that it became a delicious, fulfilling act in narcissism.
If you Google me you will probably find my Xanga. It is an unfortunate record of myself at 7th grade, written in what I would call a cross between faux-African American Vernacular English and Valley Girl speak. The worst (or best? I’m still coming to terms) part about all of it was that I labored over these posts. I was ever the editor, wondering how many o’s I could fit into an “oooooomg” before it became redundant. I thought of phrases ahead of time that might perfectly describe my pre-teen angst. Whatever I wrote in there, I was trying to fit a certain mold.
I could have deleted my account. I have gone to the homepage a half a dozen times—even made it halfway through the process. But inevitably, every time Xanga whined, “Are you suuuuure?” I paused. And said no.
Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly masochistic I like to go back and read it. I cringe at the posts, ranging from dramatic, cryptic gems like “UGH! people are so fucking fake its soo unbelievable!!” to the more informative, “OMG guys, dont see the village!!!! IT SUCKED HARD CORE!” (I stand by that statement today) to the bizarre: “vincent BLEW DEAD SKIN…INTO MY FACE…AND I WAS LIKE eeeeeeeeewwww!!! it was SOGROSS.” (Why and how did Vincent do this? That really is SOGROSS).
I read an article in Vogue by sex blogger Karly Sciortino about the permanence of online actions. Sciortino runs a blog called Slutever (which I highly recommend) that deals with the more unusual aspects of sex as well as a highly detailed look into her personal life. On writing a feelings-heavy blog post about being dumped, Sciortino says, “But I resisted the urge to delete it, because, really, who cares? If anything, the visibility of our awkward pasts teach us to take ourselves less seriously.”
This idea struck me, in an age where we feel like our online personas have to be absolutely perfect. Our tweets have to be relatable, our blog posts astute, our Facebook posts funny and casual. We should reveal just enough, but not too much about ourselves. Amidst this intense pressure, the idea of accepting a record of our less-cool selves is mildly horrifying.
But cool is relative. What Sciortino is saying is that we probably won’t ever outgrow our awkward pasts and we shouldn’t try. In a year or a month, I could look back on this blog post with a mix of detached horror and vague nostalgia—did I really think I knew what I was talking about?
It’s important to edit. It’s important to think about what we say before we put it out there; consideration of what we write differentiates us from the hicks in every comment section of any online article. But it’s equally important to recognize and embrace the people we used to be—the slightly insecure 7th grade girl in all of us—in order to remind us that we don’t need to constantly revisit the drawing board, write and rewrite. Sometimes what we have is good enough for the moment.