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Digital me, my-true-self and i

By Darren Mohammed

When typing a message, do you go through many iterations of what you want to say before hitting ‘Send’? Do you re-read the reply to make sure it’s read the right way? Has it ever been the wrong way or could have been better? Of course.

Most people curate their digital self, to be their best self. Looking at social media profile pics, not many were shot at a bad angle or with the person slouched, showcasing his/her pot belly!

Curating your online profile and digital persona is convenient because we can do it on our own timeline. As we enjoy this control and the time to create our best selves, it has been proven that we start losing the ability to be that person in the real world.

Without the extra time, our backspace key or photo-editing tools, we start to lose the ability to think and converse on the fly and our interactions become more awkward, sometimes creating anxiety that make us prefer our digital presence.

Anxiety is the mind and body’s reaction to stressful, dangerous, or unfamiliar situations. It’s the sense of uneasiness, distress, or dread you feel before a significant event, like socialising in person.

There are several ways in which technology makes us anxious. A recent study of over one million teens found that those who lived more in the digital world and less in the real one, were psychologically worse off and less happy. Besides technology making us anxious in social situations, it also makes us anxious in unpredictable ones.

Having access to all the answers on your smartphone, reduces uncertainty in your life. For example, you can’t get lost using digital maps or miss the date of an event with reminders.

Reducing uncertainty decreases our ability to think for ourselves, and in daily situations where we cannot use technology to predict the outcome, it makes us anxious because we’re less equipped to handle them on our own.

Now let’s give some thought to the act of curating itself. Why are we curating? It could be that we fear judgement by social media. When we are checking back on something we posted to count the ‘Likes’ or read the comments, we are allowing others to judge what we posted, and it can create anxiety if you allow it. Every comment could come with further emotions and stress.

Finally, after curating, are you asking yourself, ‘How does my curated-self stack up against others in my feed or group?’. We could fear that we are missing out on a better life, one where we run marathons, travel to exotic places or meet famous people.

Those feelings can make us anxious about our own reality, making us feel that parenting or working is unfulfilling and holding us back.

Technology-fuelled anxiety and its accompanying unhappiness is unhealthy and could not be what God wants for us. In our faith, we do have a duty to be our best selves, but in another context where God sees how we love and treat others not whether our teeth looked crooked in the photo.

God knows our true intentions, even when we said something stupid or rambled on when we were supposed to stop. God knows our un-curated self, with all its flaws but its true heart.

Let us find ways to limit our use of technology, to just being a tool that facilitates real life and loving connections, as there is no digital version of love, peace or joy.

A quarterly column by Darren Mohammed. He has been working in the field of technology since 1995.