Finding freedom in 1s and 0s

By Sean D. Henry-Smith

As most people know, I have an ambivalent relationship with Facebook. Deactivating and reactivating my account has become a hobby of mine, sometimes disappearing and reappearing twice within a week. I am most motivated to remove myself from Facebook when the lines between the self I am known as the in the “real world” tangles with that of the self presented in the digital realm; basically, when I’ve gotten too “weird.” The interests and various forms of media I would keep to myself on my not-quite-a-secret-but-never-spoken-of blog are suddenly posted on the walls of friends, usually to their dismay.  

The liberty to manifest one’s alter ego is a freedom Facebook and the real world does not allow. People are more likely to reveal the truest aspects of their hurt, humor, and oddities on a personal blog—used as an electronic diary—instead of their Facebook.

This is why digital communities are popular—no one has to know how the physical world analyzes you. You are free to display to the digital community the person you want to be, or wish you were.

On the Internet, one can bridge all of their interests in one place, finding a sense of wholesomeness often impossible to find in the real world. The opportunity to complete this digital self is a gift unto the identity confused – they can present any aspect of their self that is repressed in the physical world. There is confidence in the keyboard, and strength through the screen. One can indulge in the world of subcultures, free of judgment and harassment.

Raised in a Jamaican household with three different generational representations, I was surrounded by varying forms of media and interests:  musicals with my mother, my father’s Reggae, Spike Lee joints with my sister and whatever else I came across, either from friends, or on my own. As I researched further, I found connections between metal and jazz, fashion and food, black and white movies with the sound replaced by Max Roach songs and fashion; unfortunately, I was unable to communicate my newfound passions with most people I knew. 

But I found freedom on the Web—I was allowed, even encouraged, to be weird. Math Rock and weddings, artisan sandwiches and domesticating foxes, angsty poems and Wes Anderson films—all of the things that have influenced me greatly, and all of the random bits of knowledge I may never be able to use, suddenly become valuable.

The sense of solidarity provided by the union of a dislocated community that has found an electronic residence is comforting in a way other friendships sometimes cannot provide. The communities I found online were the only place I could vocalize and discover more about these topics comfortably. We were suddenly acceptable to people that we could only connect to via screens URLs.

People with interests askew of pop culture are often accused of being exclusive and “hipsters.” But this isn’t a matter of exclusivity, or taking interest in things most others have no idea exists to feel more intelligent, or important than others. The art, music, films and literature are available to everyone, but few are willing to spend the time to discover them, or even care that they exist.

The Internet is a safe haven to these interests and subcultures, providing a place to facilitate discussion with fellow fans and critics, and a place to document a history of these minor movements. Knowing that somewhere, there is a community that appreciates my weird interests and values my digital performance grants me a great confidence. I’ll probably deactivate my Facebook for a week or so, though.


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