REPRINT: BLURRING THE LINES BETWEEN ONLINE AND OFFLINE

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I think trying to find out who we are is something very human.

And I think the internet accelerates this impulse because you’re constantly looking at yourself, tweaking yourself, performing yourself over and over again.

This interview between Molly Soda and Johanne Björklund Larsen was first published in the current print issue exploring the discourse around  ‚I,‘ which can be found in stores and ONLINE 

The internet has gone from a fringe hobby for a few to a domineering force in our lives, with an online presence today being more the rule than the exception. Artist Molly Soda was part of the first generation to grow up with and on the internet, firsthand exploring how it enabled us to begin documenting our lives online. With a distinctive early 2000s internet aesthetic, her work explores digital self-representation and online existence, addressing how technology has shaped how we interact with the world around us.

 

Johanne Björklund Larsen: You first gained recognition online on Tumblr and other social media platforms. What was it about the online world that attracted you?
Molly Soda: I grew up at a pivotal moment for the internet and I was part of the first generation of people that were able to document their lives online with these early, lo-fi cell phone cameras on platforms like LiveJournal and MySpace. It wasn’t something everyone was doing, but rather a small group of people which mostly consisted of the ‘alternative’ or ‘unpopular’ kids. On the internet, you could find other people who shared your interests and dressed like you and it created a form of community, which I was really drawn to. When you’re a teenager, you’re playing so much with your identity and it’s so, so, so important to you. At that age, you’re kind of figuring out who you are and experimenting with styles and identities. You wear it so much more on your sleeve and in your external appearance compared to when you’re a little bit older and you have figured out a bit more about what you like and what you don’t like. The internet allowed you to try on different things without having to necessarily have to commit to them in person.

 

JBL: What do you think is the difference between constructing a personality online versus offline?
MS: I think there’s always a form of performance happening, whether we’re online or offline. For example, when I’m speaking with you, I’m going to act a little bit different compared to when I speak with my mom or a friend. We morph into these different ways of approaching people and the world, and though it’s very subtle, were affected by social norms, codes, politeness and whatnot. But I think online, you’re attempting to control this in another way. Online, you feel like you have all this control over your persona and can curate it. However, whenever you put anything online, you relinquish a lot of control because you dont know how people are going to perceive you. Online, everyone is coming at you from a different angle whereas when you are acting in person, you’re having these one-on-one experiences with people, which are a lot less open to interpretation.

A big phenomenon online is that we are looking at ourselves while imagining other people looking at us. When we create a post, we often have a person in mind who we imagine will read it. When you walk down the street, youre aware that people are going to see you, but you also know you’ll never have to interact with these people. When posting online, however, you’re immediately aware that other people are going to see you and can access you, which is why I think we try to look at ourselves through the eyes of others so that we become this person who is watching us, which means that, in a weird way, we are performing for ourselves.

 

JBL: Some people will post about incredibly personal stuff online, even under their real name, writing about things that they would never talk about in real life. Why do you think this is? What kind of solace and comfort do you think can be found on the internet?
MS: I’ve been like that myself in the past, where I haven’t talked to people close to me about certain things in my life, but I’ve been very open with the internet about it. I don’t know why this is. I think it’s that there is this level of still having some sort of anonymity, even if you are attached to a real name, because the people that you interact with in your real life aren’t really following you on these platforms. And, generally speaking, when you go online, you are looking for some sense of community or people that are like you, and it might feel more comforting to share with these people whom you perceive as similar to yourself.

 

JBL: How do you think about online relationships compared to offline relationships?
MS: I think in-person relationships are more… you can call it ‘well-rounded’ in certain ways, compared to online equivalents. But that’s not to say that they are more valuable. I think an online relationship can translate into an in-person relationship, and sometimes those relationships are some of the best. It’s a great way to find and meet other people and a great tool when you are a digital artist. I have found collaborators online and we have worked remotely for a long period of time before ever meeting in person.

I like to use the term ‘watering’ a lot: I feel like there are all these parts of you that need to be watered and its crazy to expect that one person or one group of people can water all of your parts. I think the internet and online communities can help with watering the parts of us that would otherwise not being tended to in our other relationships.

 

JBL: Often, when you first meet someone online, you tend to flesh them out with fantasy elements in order to create a complete persona. This might create a form of conflict when you then meet them face-to-face, because then your fantasy clashes with the real them. What are your thoughts on this conflict?
MS: I think its a bit like having a crush on someone. Having a crush on someone is really more about you looking at yourself through that other person: You are sort of imagining them looking at you as you go about your day and you’re performing for them in your mind. I think the same thing happens with our online relationships. This happens especially in parasocial relationships where you grow really, really close to someone that you’ve been following online for a long time, such as with YouTubers or influencers. You imbue all of these friendship dynamics into that relationship. But it’s one-sided because you don’t actually know each other. It also happens on a micro-level.

For example, there are people that I’ve been following online for ten years that I’ve never met, but I feel like I know so much about their lives. Nonetheless, in these cases, you have to have a sort of ‘internet literacy’ because you have realize that, ok I actually don’t know that much about this person – I don’t even know how they look when they talk. I think that what we do is we take our own baggage, our own insecurities or hopes and fears, and project them onto people. And some people can’t live up to that in person. There have been countless times where I’ve met people whom I have followed online for a long time, and though the meeting was never directly negative, we didn’t actually click in a one-on-one situation. And that’s fine, too. It’s bound to happen.

 

JBL: How do you think the internet helps or hinders us in the search for the self?
MS: We are culturally very obsessed with understanding ourselves. For example, we love astrology; we love personalized skincare; we love quizzes. We’re even sending our DNA to companies to figure out where our family is from. Everything is very specialized in this era; it is all personalized. I think trying to find out who we are is something very human. And I think the internet accelerates this impulse because you’re constantly looking at yourself, tweaking yourself, performing yourself over and over again. But you never really get that relief of figuring it out or knowing anything because you keep just flexing the same muscle over and over again.

I think that the issue with the Internet right now is that it has gone from being a lot of micro-communities to what it is now, where its like we’re all in the same room; we are all bouncing around between the same few platforms which are all connected. It has become less anonymous, which I think has made the performance of self more mainstream, and many are also trying to reach a broader audience. I think this can make the performance very toxic. There’s very little playfulness left – it has all become very serious. Its like we’re all constantly working on our resumes in this weird way.

 

JBL: How do you see the relationship between the digital and IRL-self?
MS: I think at one point, you could have said that they were two different things, but the way that technology has developed has made the difference seamless; I don’t think there is a clear distinction between IRL and URL anymore. Like, Im on my phone right now and I carry it everywhere I go and can access it whenever. I never log out from anything anymore and people expect to have access to you at any given moment. Certain people interact with you only in real life and others only interact with you online. I think that getting a glimpse of someone’s online self is a bit like seeing how they want to see themselves. I don’t think that people online are fake, but you’re sort of getting a glimpse of how people hope to be perceived, or what people’s deepest selves are. I’ve always felt that way, especially since I’ve been doing this since I was like 14. So I’ve been exercising that muscle a lot.

 

Image Courtesy of the Artists

 

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