I am William McClure Babbitt. I was born in Lansing, Michigan on November 12th 1999 to my parents Pamela McClure Babbitt and William Eric Babbitt. I spent the majority of my life living at my house in Eaton Rapids, Michigan where I attended Eaton Rapids Public Schools. When I graduated high school I moved to Ann Arbor to attend the University of Michigan where I am studying Computer Science. This is, in a way, who I am. However, I would like to say that there is much more to me.
We are all made by what we surround ourselves with. Our hobbies, our education, our friends or family, these things and more are what we construct the cornerstones of our lives from. The combination of these different aspects make a mosaic of a person that we can identify with, but the internet changes this.
When I set out to find my own online identity I expected to find a reasonably complete picture of who I am. I have always had social media accounts, I have never made a real effort to hide information, and I have chosen hobbies that inherently give me a strong online presence. I found, however, that my digital footprint was disjoint. Rather than finding a full version of myself, I found isolated pockets of my personality, with the complex connections that are normally ingrained into who I am hidden away from view. This, I believe, is typical of how the internet represents people, and leads to a fundamental misunderstanding of individuals in the modern world.
The Many Mes
I started my search as naively as I could, with simple searches of “William Babbitt” in Google. From this I found several of my public accounts including LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram among the top results. I then expanded this search by adding more identifying information that I knew was related to me and searching on different platforms specifically. This was when I began to see the divergence in how my name is represented online. There is the “Old Me”, old accounts and results from my time in High School and before, the “Modern Me”, accounts that I maintain and results related to me as I am now, and lastly what I will call the “Other Me”, accounts that I maintain and are findable online but are only connected to usernames and pseudonyms rather than my actual name.
The Old Me
The results that I will call part of the “Old Me” were quite unexpected. First off, several accounts that I no longer use were very prevalent. This included my Facebook page which had a surprising amount of public information. I no longer actively use Facebook, but nonetheless it had information including my birthday, where I went/go to school, where I worked in the past, where I’m from, the name of my girlfriend and family members, many old photos of me, and the many posts that I made back in the day when I was around 13 years old. This was a bit surprising to me to see how much of this information was still out there. I’ve never been someone to closely protect information about myself, but I didn’t realize just how public this old account still was.
The fact that this account was no longer used also created an interesting situation. Not only was this information public, but in many places it was wrong. For example, apparently I still live in my hometown, still work at a golf course, and still think “Bolt” is one of the best movies ever made. This left me feeling oddly exposed, and somewhat embarrassed, by a lot of this information. It is one thing to accept the lack of privacy the Internet often necessitates, but for the lack of privacy to push a version of myself that is no longer accurate out into the world felt wrong.
This feeling was expanded upon when I came across many things related to my life in high school. I grew up in a rather small town, and because of this things such as my performance in academics, sports, and clubs was highly documented in local papers and my school’s website. There are results about honor rolls, robotics competitions, club events, and many aspects of who I was in high school, however, as I have grown and moved away from my small town beginnings, the impact that I have had appears to lessen. This results in my online identity lacking many of the things in my life that I am most proud of.
The Modern Me
The other side of this coin is my current digital identity. Here I include things like my LinkedIn, my GitHub, and my Instagram; all of the accounts that were easy to find and are actively maintained by me. In contrast to the outdated material, all of these pages are much more polished and professional. They are pages that I intend for people to find and look through, and in general I would say that they have the appearance of being made by someone who is older and more invested in presenting a nice looking identity for employers, friends, and anyone who’s looking.
The question remains if this portrayal of myself is any more accurate than the “Old Me”. The “Old Me” identity is outdated, but it was largely unfiltered. I didn’t think nearly as much about what I said, nor did I really care about what impression I made on people. In contrast the “Modern Me” identity is one of careful curation, leaving out anything that I think isn’t relevant or that might be embarrassing, even if it is part of who I am. This made me think that perhaps the most honest view of who I am would come from an updated version of myself that is less performative. One with more anonymity and less concern over who sees it.
My Other Me
This idea was confirmed when I moved to looking up usernames, aliases, email addresses, and other account information that wasn’t directly tied to my name. For example, searching my YouTube account name led to finding my YouTube channel, which contained a few old school and personal projects, all my playlists of videos I have saved over the years, and all the comments I have ever left on YouTube. Similarly, searching my Reddit username quickly provided all the posts I have ever made, all the comments I have left, what communities I follow on the platform, and even the name of a subreddit I moderate.
Where my other accounts had been a presentation of accomplishments, these long held accounts let you easily follow my interests and opinions through the years using the communities I followed and the comments I left. Since I didn’t intend for these accounts to be tied back to who I am in real life, I was more open about problems I was having, my more controversial opinions, and any other interests that I didn’t want to be what others defined me by. While these accounts gave what I think is the closest view to the truth of who I am, they, like the others, left out pieces of information due to the very purpose they served for me as their creator. They lacked the context that would allow an outside viewer to piece together a complete version of who I am.
The presence that I have crafted for myself online is one that is highly compartmentalized. There is no continuous presentation of me out there that I believe accurately describes who I am. Instead, there are a series of representations, each singling out different aspects of my life. The old me highlights who I was and how I chose to present myself in the past, the new me shows how I want people to see me now while hiding other parts of my life, and the other, exclusively digital, me gives a view into my interests and opinions that I never intended to be connected to. Each of these perspectives push their own version of who I am into the world, but they also each leave pieces of me behind.
The modern world is the most connected civilization that has ever existed, but everyone’s identities are missing pieces. No one, from the average Joe to the most famous celebrity, paints a full picture of who they are online because they seek a different purpose from each of their online accounts and personas. We live in a world where piecemeal parts of our lives are on display, and taken to be the truth of who we are. This creates a world where we compare ourselves only to the best parts of other people's lives, and view people and their opinions as absolutes. Without context, it is impossible for us to truly understand who someone is, and as a society we need to take care to not assume that these representations are the full picture.