sec·ond na·ture
a characteristic or habit in someone that appears to be instinctive because that person has behaved in a particular way so often. 

     As citizens of 2016, many of us exist in two forms. The primary, physical self, and the secondary, digital self. We, our physical selves, live in the real world. Our digital selves, however, have a real world of their own. They exist exclusively online and exhibit material from our physical lives that we provide them with. Their accuracy of our physical self’s portrayal is dependent on the personal distance at which we hold our digital entities. 

     From September through December, 2016, I performed an experiment using my own digital self and operating through Instagram. I distanced my physical and digital selves to a point where we became such entirely separate entities, we did not even look alike. 

     Prior to the experiment, I kept my digital self very close to me. That is to say, she (my online presence) exhibited herself in a way that was almost identical to the physical life I was living. This was a personal preference, and the distance at which we hold these secondary entities varies from case to case. Some individual’s digital selves present a dramatically altered version of their physical reality. In most cases, digital selves are held at arms length and exhibit a mildly reconstructed look at an individual’s physical life. 

     The experiment began by establishing our (my physical and digital selves) shared existence in time and space. This was done by mirroring our Instagram accounts, the only different being that the preexisting account showed me in the images while the new account exhibited a new model who would eventually become my online identity. We then began to drift apart until she had revamped her whole appearance, leaving my old digital self to exist as an old photograph; a reminder of what was, but an inaccurate depiction of current events. She became my entire online presence and was accepted as such despite our differences in appearance. It should be noted that the model used throughout the project had the sole purpose of portraying my digital identity. The physical model had no input in the project whatsoever. I could have hypothetically cast anyone in the role, as our digital selves’ appearances act as ‘ingredient X’ and are quite interchangeable. 

     If this modern phenomenon of separate selves is not understood, it poses certain dangers. Those who place their entire self worth in the currency of likes and followers will inevitably feel their perceived physical value decrease or increase based on these transactions. It is crucial to understand the separation between our two selves and not, for example, allow the value of our physical self’s peaceful moment with a good cup of coffee to be diminished by our digital self’s portrayal of that moment and the likes (or lack thereof) that the moment garners in the digital realm. 

     I have always felt most comfortable keeping my secondary self close. Although the experiment proved amusing, introspective, and a nice opportunity for her to spread her wings, we always intended to return to our previous relationship. She’s back now, portraying an only slightly altered version of my physical existence.


     Where does your digital presence stand in relation to your physical self? What does yours look like?