A chunk of my disposable income in 2019 went toward buying V-bucks—or virtual money—which my then-eight-year-old used to buy various “skins” or identities for Fortnite. To those who don’t know, Fortnite is that shriek-inducing online video game cursed by parents and beloved by 8+ players all over the world.
Of the slew of multi-colored, multi-gadgeted virtual killers my son was enamored with, he loved Flapjackie best. She appears to be mostly human. She wears a translucent, pearl-blue mask that matches her jacket. Flopping above her head are red bunny ears. Her description reads like any nebulous and intriguing Instagram bio: loves pancakes almost as much as victory.
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She is also the least likely choice for my son, who still sleeps wearing an “I Love My Daddy Lots” t-shirt and still drinks a plastic thimbleful of Cherifer every morning. But when he enters a raging virtual warzone, Flapjackie is his favorite skin.
My son is almost ten years old: he grew up in the decade of which I write, and in which I learned to examine how we represent ourselves online.
It also happens that my husband is a decade older than me. So when I asked for some perspective on what might be the most momentous thing to happen in the last decade, his answer was simple: “Facebook.”
Apart from harvesting our data with or without our knowledge to suit various corporate and political ends, Facebook is also the great disassembler of selves. Thanks to Facebook and other social media platforms, this was the decade I saw myself split into two: a core self and a curated self.
(As I write this, I am wondering if I should post a picture of myself writing this very article, seated as I am in a photogenic café. I contemplate including my coffee in the shot, with its frothy, curlicued heart. For shits and giggles, I might throw in the envy trap of a status known as office of the day—not to be confused with outfit of the day, though similarly-intentioned).
I have shared many things on Facebook. Though the experiences are as various as Fortnite skins, the underlying impetus for posting them is the same: to share something worth mentioning until my timeline grows into a curated collection of milestones, opinions, trivia and news. And this curation goes into a distinct representation of a self.
I was the last person in my group of friends and the first one in my family to set up a Facebook account in 2009—which makes it exactly ten years today that I’ve had a curated social media presence.
I like to think that my curated self is 10 years old. And that my core self is decades older, and that it remains more nebulous and elusive. The two are in talks but it seems like my curated self is the power player. She shares articles from the New Yorker, Pitchfork, Rappler and the Philippine Daily Inquirer. She shares poems by old superstars like Mark Strand, and new superstars like Ocean Vuong. She shares articles she’s written about the Philippines for international festivals.
“...my core self is decades older, and that it remains more nebulous and elusive. The two are in talks but it seems like my curated self is the power player.”
There are academics who argue that there’s no such thing as a core self—that the very idea of one is an illusion, and that the negotiations between our online and offline personas define the self in the digital age. But maybe I’m of that old school—I like to think that my curated self is not my core self—the former will not share personal politics or quotidian disdain. Curated self is agreeable. Core self is dangerous. But the more I share on Facebook, the more the line between the core self and the curated self disappears. Over the decade, this divide has diffused into a porous border; as the decade draws to a close, I’m neither one or the other; I’m the indistinct idea of both.
On the other hand, my son believes that Flapjackie will lead him to more victories on Fortnite than any of his other skins. He is intrigued by the fact that the name “Flapjackie” references flapjacks. He thinks she’s cool. He doesn’t think that if he represents himself this way in an online game, he can pull off “cool”; that if his many contenders behind their screens—across many cities, across all the world— know that the player who chooses Flapjackie is cool, they might even warm up to her, and find that they do not want to riddle her with bullets so they can win the game.
He’s too young to think about the optics of representation—he has simply found the right skin. Perhaps at the same time I’ve lost mine, or slipped from mine, metaphorically speaking. For my generation, and my husband’s generation, the digital self is the new self—but for my son, his digital self is part of his real self.
If there’s anything that’s happened in the last decade, it can be claimed that at least one generation lost itself, while another found itself. Whether or not things take another turn, only the next decade really knows. Meanwhile, do I dress tomorrow knowing I’ll take a shot of myself for Facebook, or do I do the dangerous and just dress for myself?