According to Webster’s Dictionary, Identity is among the top 10% of words in popularity. We’re using this word often enough, it seems important to understand what it means. More specifically, since we have the ability to express our identities online through personal social accounts, it seems imperative to understand what our identity is, and if and how it is separate from our self-worth. If our identities can really be fully expressed and shared, and then responded to in a measurable way, can identities be measured, compared, and evaluated? Can we be found unworthy?
Let’s dissect identity.
DEFINITION 1: sameness of essential or generic character in different instances or sameness in all that constitutes the objective reality of a thing
SIMPLIFIED: the qualities, beliefs, etc., that make a particular person or group different from others
EXAMPLE: His art reflects his cultural identity.
This definition refers to a common defining quality shared, like a faith, sexual orientation, species, race, or culture. This is a defining feature that relates an individual to a greater whole. When a quality shared, like being female or Jewish, is measured as worthy or unworthy of acceptance and love, the individual who identifies with that quality may take on the measurement for themselves.
DEFINITION 2: the distinguishing character or personality of an individual
SIMPLIFIED: who someone is : the name of a person
EXAMPLE: people who seem to lack individual identity; The identity of the criminal is not known.
This can be as cold and detached as a person’s social security number, eye color, and place of birth; and as close and personal as someone’s taste, preferences, talents, faults, and passions.
Our identities then, are the sum of the qualitative features that combined make each of us unique from one another. Essentially, an individual’s identity is that individual defined. Notice, identity is qualitative, not quantitative. Worth, on the other hand originates from Old English references to value, specifically monetary value according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. As worth has a quantitative association, it’s something we love to measure.
Cue online social platforms. These spaces are designed to help people label, express, define, and selectively share themselves, all to craft a simplified identity others can interact with...all qualitative information. Then, ironically, social media simultaneously provides the ability to rate what is shared via follows, likes, retweets, comments, and shares. In a virtual world, where we can craft and share our identities and then watch the numbers, or lack thereof, how are we not to feel rated? How can we avoid comparing our "likes" with others’ "likes"? How are we not supposed to feel afraid of not measuring up, jealous, excluded, inferior, competitive, and ultimately lonely?
For us, the answer became clear once we recognized the important difference between qualitative and quantitative data. The extremely complex, ever-changing, and growing combination of qualities that make up our identities cannot be captured by the most sophisticated social platform's quantitative measurements. Simply put, there is no social platform sophisticated enough to measure the worth of our identities, no matter how advanced the technology becomes.
Here are some practices we use to help us navigate interacting online, because we’ve each decided it’s worth sticking it out in the virtual sandbox, if only for the beautiful connections it has brought us and the creative opportunities it makes more accessible than ever. Fun fact: our friendship is the result of connecting through Facebook and Instagram.
- Disconnect: Solitude can be a really healing thing. When we’re feeling lonely, it can seem totally backwards to unplug and be alone. It’s become sacred to each of us though, because it affords us space to listen to our own voice without distraction, remembering those things deep in us that are unique and our own. It gives us back the whole picture the online accounts limit so much. It gives us space to honor the ritual of letting ourselves be enough, our stuff be enough, our taste be enough. Note: Makeshift celebrates that we never stay in one place for long, so we don’t advise figuring yourself all out and sticking with that definition forever. No fun in that.
- Reconnect: It’s easier to reconnect from a more whole place, having taken some of the power back from that fear of not being enough. The weapon against fear is bravery. When we remember we are more than what’s online, we can feel brave enough to reach out, even if it's uncomfortable. Bravery is the second it takes to comment something sincere on someone else’s post instead of being jealous and trying to compete. It's leaving a note on someone’s blog offering to help them find their way in a new town. It's choosing to celebrate the beauty in others’ lives without diminishing the beauty in ours. It's asking a new Instagram friend to coffee. Maybe everyone struggles to remember they are more than their online identity, and that the interaction with their account can be measured, but their own self-worth can’t be. Maybe everyone feels alone sometimes. Maybe everyone would appreciate a kind comment. Maybe everyone is looking for someone to reach out. Why can't that be us? Why can't we use social media as a tool for connection? Why can't we give what it is that we want to get?
- Take it offline: Ultimately, Cord’s Instagram account is beautiful, but I (Maddie) promise you it’s not even a measurable comparison to how beautiful her soul is in reality. We wouldn’t have become true friends, and Makeshift would not exist, if we hadn’t used social media to connect, and then decided to meet for coffee face-to-face, where we could hear the sound of each other’s voices, watch each other’s eyes wander as ideas come and go, and make each other laugh. Plus, actually enjoying eating food together beats liking each other’s food photos any day.
We hope some of these practices are helpful to you as well. It’s not an airtight system by any means, and we’re always open to suggestions. The internet is a fun playground, no doubt, it’s just super empowering to remember its limitations sometimes, and step into the rich and complex, non-digital reality all around us. That being said, wherever you’re reading this, hopefully you’re in comfy clothes, eating or drinking something great near a window...all of which are probably more enjoyable than reading your screen.
Love from behind our screens to you in front of yours! - M + C