I don't call myself a writer.
Giving myself that title feels disingenuous. As if in doing so, I would be wrongfully placing myself among greats such as Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allan Poe, and Judy Blume.
So, when people ask me what I do, I might talk about writing, but I am never a writer.
My LinkedIn profile has never listed me as such.
Similarly, I carefully vet the creative work I have posted online.
Any creation with my name attached to it has gone through a series of mental and written checklists to affirm that I indeed, want it to be open to the masses.
Why is this the case?
Why do I (and many others) filter our creative work so heavily, often at the expense of total authenticity?
I have a theory.
And it involves internet trolls.
Internet Identies: The Beginning
Before I explain, let’s go back to the theory’s origin: my childhood.
Having crash-landed on the planet in the early 90s, I grew up in a mythical age that transcended pre- and post- internet inception.
I remember always having a computer in my home, and its primary function being Solitaire.
I remember dial-up and those awful alien sounds it made.
I remember camcorders so heavy they made your shoulder ache.
I remember cell phones that resembled calculators.
I remember when we made the jump to digital everything.
While I grew and changed rapidly, so did my technology.
Chat messengers like ICQ and AIM introduced me to the social online world, and I joined the first cohorts of Xanga and MySpace users. Soon, I started pouring my real-life events into a digital screen.
My day to day happenings became forever saved in blog entries, chats, and texts.
Whether I realized it or not, my life began unfolding in two places: off and online.
This meant that I was not just Gina, awkward but friendly overachiever nerd in real life, but also Gina, crafter of lengthy blog posts about her weekend and taker of posed and filtered selfies.
Birth of Internet Trolls
My generation and I formed our identities amidst the interplay of online and offline selves. I wish I could say the experience was all positive.
But technology allowed people’s dark sides to roam free, uninhibited.
Mysterious statuses started nasty rumors.
Posted pictures turned into gossip fodder.
Texts and chat messages formed bullying battlegrounds.
Social media blasted out the popularity rat race.
What you missed out on or didn’t get invited to got plastered across your eyeballs the moment you refreshed your news feed.
I stumbled through middle and high school drama that revolved around away messages and “Top 8” picks, Facebook relationship statuses, and unanswered texts.
Now, I wade through the young adult professional version, with Instagram and Twitter feeds rife with filtered lives of apparent perfection. Inadequacy, FOMO, and jealousy permeate the social mediasphere.
Of course, it isn’t all bad. Technology and social media has moved the world forward in countless ways, from forming the sharing economy, to heightening news and awareness, to improving educational access, to facilitating digital nomadism.
But it has come at a cost.
Now, we put our lives on blast. Sometimes to self-selected communities, or sometimes to the entire internet world.
And thanks to the perceived anonymity offered by computers, hands hot with ire or criticism can fly across keyboards, leaving comments filled with anger and hate. Thumbs have the power to turn an iPhone into a word gun, firing harsh remarks at their targets.
Public figures of many stripes –– women even more so than men –– must face everything from body shaming to death threats thanks to the internet.
The comments sections have become gauntlets of name-calling, hatred, and a bloody, spellcheck hellscape.
Self-Sustainability in the Age of Comments
So is it any wonder we curate our profiles? Scour our personal websites? Censor our statuses?
Even the most freewheeling, opinion-spouting, controversy-building people among us must know that internet identities are a creation. They are an online projection of you –– a living, breathing organism that is much more complex and nuanced than whatever shows up about you on a glowing screen.
Your online presence does not embody you.
But it does matter.
Especially if you use the internet as a form of self-expression, be it through writing, showcasing art or photography, making videos, collaborating with others, or in some way creating, you are opening yourself up to this unforgiving internet world.
The one that will analyze your word choice,
pick apart your photos,
scrutinize your profiles,
and ultimately judge who you are as a person based on who you are online.
It’s a scary. fucking. thing. And it is totally understandable to want to protect yourself from such hatred –– to limit and carefully select the ideas you lay bare.
However, you should absolutely not let that stop you from making and sharing your creations.
I repeat: do not let internet trolls stifle your creativity. Let it be free.
Technology or not, the world has always had haters.
The difference is that now they have keyboard megaphones and digital soapboxes.
But if we let the angry caps lock users among us determine what is good, what is worthy, and what is valuable, we will lose a lot of creative beauty and progress that could be shared.
Don’t let your work sit on your hard drive because you’re afraid of negativity. Keep creating.
Will you be judged, criticized and mocked by some?
Will you also be admired, loved, and respected by many others?
By facing the possibility of criticism and failure head on, you will become not only a stronger person, but a more creative one as well.
Unchaining yourself from the fear of being mediocre or poor, will give you the gift of free expression, making you more likely to create great things.
Fuck the critics.
Share your work with abandon.
Be a writer. Be an artist. Be a musician. Be a photographer. Be a dancer. Be a mix of all of them or be none of them.
Be you –– proudly.
Let's change the world.
Who wrote this?
Gina Edwards, Impact Explorer founder and lover of all pun jokes, making a positive change in the world, Stephen Colbert, Jif Peanut Butter, and staying inside on rainy days. Order may vary.