The week of March 27, 2016

Building new selves in the ashes of the old

By Jesse Hicks

Thinking about self-representation in the digital world, two points often come to mind. First, the old axiom that “on the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.” But close on the heels of that thought, and in tension with it, comes the thought that once something’s on the Internet, it’s there forever. Often, then, a belief that we can be reshaped and refigured online runs into the everyday realization that we’re more likely to be bound by our easily searchable past. In this week’s issue of the Kernel, we’re looking at three stories of people who managed that tension between real-life and virtual selves, and who found their way through to a new beginning.

Adam Popescu talked to Crissy Moran, who performed in over 50 adult movies before deciding to leave the industry, walking away from a lucrative career because, despite the money, she couldn’t bring herself to continue. She left it all behind, which meant starting over practically from scratch. There was the financial burden of having to find a new career; even more importantly, though, Moran needed to find a new identity, separate from her old life. Finding that new sense of self wasn’t easy—especially when her likeness was still being peddled all over the Internet by the industry she’d tried to escape.

Melissa Petro faced a similar problem when she was outed as a former sex worker and forced out of her job as a schoolteacher. Her story was prime tabloid fodder; her story would always be just a Google search away. It took her a long time to claw back her sense of self. But, she writes, “These days, I know that when I fail to mention the very worst thing that ever happened to me (being outed), which necessitates that I also reveal a very complicated time of my life (when I sold sex), it’s not because I’ve got something to ‘hide.’”

When James Moore was forced to drop out of college his freshman year, as Rosie Cima details, he found support in a surprising place: the strategy game Civilization II, which he’d played to a dystopian stalemate, creating a world forever at war. His game was a weird fluke, an outlier that no one could have predicted—and when he revealed it to the world, even the game’s creator was surprised. His game, dubbed “the Eternal War,” became a remarkable cultural artifact, prompting players to try to “solve” it, writers to build stories in its broken world, and artists to design posters for its warring factions. For Moore, though, the game became wasn’t just a fascinating virtual world. It was a way for him to learn how to live better in this one.

Enjoy the issue.

Photo via Thomas Au/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Jason Reed