Trying On Selves
In his autobiographical Permanent Record, Edward Snowden’s joy in the freewheeling, anarchic Internet of the 1990s strikes a surprising chord. Born earlier and no techie, I recall the same youthful thrill of trying on different selves where nobody knew who I was.
In summer camps far from home, I could play at being whoever I wished and none of it would follow me home. Going out of state for college allowed another fresh start. We students were all exploring, testing ideas by trial and error, with no shame in saying something stupid one day and rescinding it the next. In my twenties, moves every year or two offered a series of chances to reinvent. Only my immediate family gave continuity, and they didn’t try to box me in.
Though by my thirties I found relationships in community at least as liberating as serial anonymity, later life events renewed the freedom—and the need—to recreate who I wanted to be.
Isn’t this the best of both worlds? A few close kith or kin who not only know you deeply, but also encourage you to experiment, change, and grow.
2/3/2020 12:02:05 pm
Hi. Thanks for writing & sharing this.
2/3/2020 01:35:32 pm
Interesting observation, Bob. Thanks! Where does one draw the line? When we're free to be as anonymous as we please, we can abuse it by being two-or-more-faced and not taking responsibility for our words. On the other side, for adolescents trying to figure out who they are, might pressuring them to be consistent and present a coherent identity before they're ready get in the way of exploring, experimenting, trying things on for size? I don't know the answer, unless it's to positively encourage reconsidering (instead of condemning it as "flip-flopping") at the same time as we ask people to stand behind their words and deeds of the present.
2/5/2020 02:04:22 pm
That's an important aspect of study abroad I don't hear much abroad. Yes, it's great for cross-cultural understanding, and for language immersion when it's in a country with a different language - and it's also good for self-knowledge, especially in the teen and early adulthood years of identity formation. Not just by offering new experiences and exposure to a new culture, but for time and space to experiment, as you say. Thanks so much for sharing from your experience.
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I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.