By Jacob Schmidt The college experience is intrinsically tied to a search for identity, for defining oneself and aligning with groups. While this has been the case as long as institutions of higher education have existed, the invasive presence of social media platforms has accelerated, redefined, and most of all cheapened our understanding of identity.
The presented self often does not align with the lived self. Being present and honest with friends and relatives grows more difficult as we place more of our lives online, fitting our look to match one of several models conveniently provided for us by social media.
False representation of the self is a crime of which most of us are guilty. In my own life, I have clung to the title of cyclist, despite spending very little time on my bike. I felt like I was a cyclist. I owned all of the proper equipment. I had extensive knowledge of professional riders. I could properly use the words peloton and cadence. Yet I lacked the essential characteristic of cyclists--I didn’t ride my bike. By calling myself a cyclist, I was aligning myself with an identity which was not mine because it made me more interesting; it gave me respect which I didn’t deserve.
I suspect that each one of us--especially those in their first years of college--has an identity which we claim, but do not deserve. Platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat only make it easier to maintain these false fronts. One such identity which I have been in a position to see falsely presented by a great number of Whitworth students, is that Pacific Northwesterly brand of outdoorsiness. A cursory check of student Facebook and Instagram accounts shows myriad outdoor scenes captured through a set of filters. Yet, as a member of the outdoor rec staff, I have often found it difficult to get students to sign up for trips with many of the trips cancelling due to lack of participation. Speaking with students about trails and crags in the inland northwest, many are clueless about what is right in their backyard. Yet the hammock photos and Chaco clad foot pics continue to populate our news feeds, presenting the image of outdoorsiness without the effort. I like laying in a hammock as much as the next guy and I love my adventure sandals, but these are often used as a PNW membership card.
This lack of authenticity is not limited to outdoorsiness, there is a more general countercultural facade which many present. This is exemplified in the “Spokane doesn’t suck” t-shirt. While I agree with this campaign and the sentiment behind it, these shirts and stickers have shown up on the bodies and water bottles of many who never leave “the pine-cone curtain.” Spokane doesn’t suck, but if you really believe that, go down to west central and volunteer with Project Hope, ride the bus when you do it, interact with your non-Whitworth neighbors.
Perhaps I am just complaining too much. Maybe this article is the journalistic equivalent of an older dude at the skatepark yelling, “Poser!” at the kids that are new to the sport. I would like that to be the case, but my experience in the past four years has shown me an increasing problem of activity for the sake of appearances and identity over and above the actual, real benefits of that activity. There is beauty and fear and a connection with the divine that I believe is best actualized when one removes themselves from comfortable circumstances and embarks into the wilderness of either nature or the city.