I was having a conversation with my dad a few months ago when he said something I had never thought about: “Shann, I don’t envy you at all; how will you ever move on with your life when there is constantly a digital footprint following you?”
My dad was obviously referring to our ever-growing Facebook pages, Instagram accounts, and many other channels that track our lives via pictures, status updates, event pages, and private messages. Every person who has ever been in a photo with you, tagged you in a status, or sent you a message is part of your digital past that, even if you untag, never truly goes away. We’ve all had that panic when you get an invitation via Facebook to go to a party and then see that an ex or someone with whom you are no longer friends is invited and you play chicken on who will respond to the event first. There is also no “I wonder how he’s doing” or “I wonder if he has a new girlfriend” because a majority of the time his Facebook page will tell you within minutes where he is and what he is doing. For some people that may be comforting, but for others I can imagine it to be stress-inducing.
There are many aspects of the digital past and present that are haunting, but one large one is the concept of “unfriending”. To some people the unfriend is therapeutic and cathartic; to others (I fall into this category) it seems like unnecessary attention that I don’t need. Then he’s going to know that I unfriended him and that it upsets me to see his face on my newsfeed. This just stirs up a lot of unnecessary stress and worry. Also, the problem of cyber-stalking is so real. Who is that new girl in his picture? Oh her profile pictures are public, let’s look at all of them. (I know I sound crazy here, but don’t tell me you haven’t done it).
I work in social media as a career so I have a hard time avoiding the stress-inducing monster, but I sometimes wonder if my friends without Facebooks and Instagrams are onto something. While these tools are super useful in saving beautiful memories, they are also really great at saving memories you force your “non-digital” self to forget.
How will my, our, generation get over this digital ball and chain we have following us around for the rest of our lives? My thought is that we will adapt and learn how to live with it and not run away from it. We will have to realize that yes, you were super happy in that photo from 2007, but that does not mean you would be happy posing for that same picture today. And yes, all the messages you shared with your significant other still exist in the digital universe, but it is your choice to look at them or not.
This will definitely not always be easy, but the unsubscribe button is beautiful and we can get through this together; even in 2024 when we feel the same way about the pictures we take today as we do now about those damn pictures taken in 2007, (bad bangs will follow you forever).
How do you think this generation will get over the so-called digital ball and chain?