This year, the zeitgeist spells split selves. More and more of life is lived across media, says the closest cultural majority. We, as in me, are fraying across platforms.
Everyone I know is overextended, but looking to live her life mindfully. Which life? I personally curate a gallery of women answering to the same name. These holographic identities gain ground every day.
This week alone, I’ve had two separate conversations about an individual’s platform specific personality, in which we evaluate its authenticity over coffee, as if we’re amateur curators, or social media critics. I have a friend—sorry, countless friends--who refuse to entertain the romantic possibility of anyone who can’t engage in protracted cellular repartee.
No one meets in person anymore, says everyone. Or if they do, in an instant the meeting is heavily padded by interactions with online imprints, hosted in places the body doesn’t go. I fall in love first with a photograph, and then with a joke. Boy meets girl, meets everything ever published about you and your recently deceased relative, meets everything you’ve ever voiced online, into a cybernetic wilderness that echoes you back, word for word.
Let’s say there is a someone, and that someone is a they/them, and I like the look of them because they hint at something I can also find in myself. I want to know them first without being known. Which tree in the new media woods ought I to hide behind?
One is a way to know them without words. They post images mirroring back their gaze: a checkered dishtowel on a checkered floor, an American flag with a bite taken out of it, the snowy dent where once there was a watermelon packed in ice. My friend snorts when she sees their feed, but we can’t all like the same flavor. “It’s just so white poet,” she says. What does she mean by that? They brook no personhood; there are no humans in their lens?
We are, all of us, specialists in online archaeology. I uncover a life lived in links. Each location, from the nebulous character count to our disjunct body knot, provides a new platform for self-expression. Google says they have been places; Google assures me they come from a family; Google references a larger landscape: awards, deaths, graduation rosters, titles they have held.
I find out where they live in less than 140 characters, and time stamped. I find out what’s funny to them, and how they like it, and whom they’re willing to repeat. How we live in the dystopic now: mimetic twitter moves like brain waves. I am intimate with a fragmented catalogue intended to imitate another person’s qualia of consciousness. Do I fool myself into believing I can open a window onto how they think?
In text, they like to call me a cunt.
In text, they tell me I have a fifth dimension soul.
Cunt is a synecdoche for woman, but I’m not clear on what exactly the fifth dimension measures. I look up a video online.
Much like the notion of myriad identity furthered by new media, the now-widely accepted notion of a fifth dimension is built on the foundation of physicist Hugh Everett III’s “many worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics, in which he posits that every possible outcome of choice and chance is equally embodied in parallel universes. Humans, anchored by body, can only perceive one reality at a time. We suffer an obstructed view.
The fifth dimension charts a notion of time and space existing at a right angle to humans’ necessarily horizontal perception of time. The branching of self, which will result in a vast multiplicity of universe, occurs in this space.
Perhaps this is not news? In most every form, media (or pop-media) content has touched upon the cathartic, horrific, fifth dimension fantasy space. In the ubiquitously binged Stranger Things, of Netflix fame, creative losers confirm the existence of their juvenile pretend game, only to understand that its actuality is, like adulthood, nightmarishly brutal, and spinning beyond the bounds of individualistic subjectivity. David Lindsay-Abaire’s critically-acclaimed play turned movie “Rabbit Hole”, starring Nicole Kidman in a stunning range of gray cardigans and Aaron Eckhart’s stoic chin, envisions concurrent dimensions in which its tortured protagonists are not so wracked by misery. Where circumstance unhooks, a healing space can be revealed. There is also, of course, the famous 1970s vocal group The Fifth Dimension, whose color co-ordinated harmonies jingled listeners into a more aesthetic multiplicity of tone.
Quantum mechanics and popular media both popularize the fifth dimension as a place between iterations of actuality. Alternates pattern into penumbra, alternates get hard with possibility. The fifth dimension charts negative definition: the shadow cast between me and me if. Who knew that, scientifically speaking, the conditional took up space?
In other words, here we are. At home, in our fifth dimension. All iterations of self and other exist, equally. Our embodied actuality, from which any number of online selves outstretches, is only one of an infinite many.
On the other hand, these love letters, to and from disembodied voices, are like junk food: a shortcut out of appetite. I eat aspirational desire till it makes me sick.
We talk about houses. We talk about glass houses. We talk about glass houses shaped like domes. Rain runs off the curved boundaries of our mutual fantasy. We are building transparency, a place where we both can live.
Where are you right now, they want to know.
The only sound in the whole house, I tell them, is of my fingers tapping keys.
And what then, having built our glass home? Do we turn to the adage? A stone’s throw away from one another! How, in glass houses, can people not throw?
Online, we have vacated our physical selves for a gesture at disembodied sublimity, but spiritual union fleets faster when the circumstance of self, other, and circumstance, is not a place to plant kisses, or feet.
Who will break first? I am resolute in the bed I made. My will lives in my body; hard with dimension, only one.
Late, language thins for the reaching. We miss our bodies, who communicate, too, in another system of signs.
When the person on the other end finally gives up, it’s a cannibalistic pleasure.
Sure, I’ll get a drink with you.
Will you show me your body then?
At 8pm, I am sitting on my red and green striped couch, wearing eyeshadow and eating salsa with a spoon. I am a narcissist, peeking at the cheat sheet my date brings along. Online, I peruse selves.
In the other room, my roommate struggles to solve our toilet hangman. She is not great at filling in the blank. She has had an in-person boyfriend for several years. She leaves the door open while I review my resume, shouts out each guess.
My crowd-sourced identity search results are all the same, one story picked up everywhere. There is a photo of me at 13, smiling like I’m thoroughly stoned, and another of me at the same age in an ankle-length ice blue down coat. The lining is butter yellow? What was I thinking, I think, buying that.
There are links to stories I wrote. There is my uncle the lawyer’s professional headshot.
Further in, there is a woman who may or may not have died in the Holocaust. “It is likely,” states the website hosting her image, “that Sonia Feigelson was born in 1915.” Pregnant with their daughter, this Sonia was unable to follow her husband out of pre-war Europe. She gave birth to their child soon after the war broke out.
Directly following this account, the website concludes: “At some point, Sonia tragically died.” No further comments. Then: “Are there any additional photos of Sonia?” a user asks.
On a separate site of pop-identity, you can click quick through years of how a more modern me might like to seem, some flipbook of evolving self.
If you knew me online and nowhere else, I hope I’d make an okay impression. I look a lot like someone you’ve already dated. I am dressed to impress, curated for appeal. All I want is to be beloved; what do you say, champ?
In person, is the actual. They went to this party. I went to bed. Do we have mutual friends?
Maybe our romance can only occur in dimensions that allow us to audition other types of self. These physical surfaces keep getting in the way. Every time they touch me, I feel sad.
Does new media mitigate the real?
In other places, I can turn them on and they can turn me off.
There are theorists who are speaking about the real self as emerging out of overlap, as if the truest form of identity were the center of a Venn diagram. There are theorists who say what matters most in constructing core is what we feel strongest about, but that this iteration is rarely visible, because we nearly always experience ourselves contextualized. There are theorists who are crying apocalypse of self, who claim that technology is what makes us unrecognizable, or forces us all to answer to the same face. There are theorists who believe in the self dying from over-exposure, from informational access, who are scared of going schizophrenic because they’ve seen too much.
I am parroting someone else when I say that I think there is a myth being perpetuated in the conception of the self as singular and in the claim of identity fragmentation as a new world’s disease. I, as in we, am heir to this manifold lineage as some being unraveling in concurrent dimensions of self.
If our now is a traveling point within some fifth dimensional space, then does new media echo, in theory, the gap between dimensions of self? Online is uncharted territory, alternately democratized and lawless, fostering promise akin to that of outer space exploration, or the probability of dimensions yet to be physicalized.
So what if my selves are all off living their own lives, while I try to govern them? Who says one attachment should extend across platforms, into other salient dimensions? Written, I am not me, but distilled into direction.
Have you ever felt this? The sanctity of being of your own translator, of holding court and coming out with a verdict, of getting it all quiet so you can be the one to say: I am irreducible into body. I have a fifth dimension soul.