Erasing myself from the internet
“To remember what it was to be me: That was always the point.”
I’m trying to erase myself from the internet.
It started with deleting my tweets. Curious, I had clicked a link for DeleteMyTweets.com, unaware that it would begin deleting my tweets immediately upon authentication. (That’s on me.) I watched, rapt, as the tweets disappeared: the me from 2008, when I started my account. From 2010, when I was graduating high school. From 2012, deep in the throes of my identity crisis at Auburn. From 2014, right after I got married. From 2018, when I was career-obsessed and attempting to become a Thought Leader™️. From 2021, after the divorce. All the breadcrumbs of who I used to be, neatly swept away. An immense lightness came over me. I felt the freedom to be whoever I wanted to be next.
After the Twitter incident, it became an obsession. It lit up the same part of my brain as purging my closet or decluttering a junk drawer. I’ve always loved reinventing myself, but the internet has made it hard. Everywhere I look, some previous Lane lurks, ready to embarrass me with all the things she used to think, believe, want. I didn’t want to be held accountable for all the versions of myself I’d tried on. I deleted my Facebook account, along with the thousands of photos that had collected over the years. Tumblr, YouTube, Pinterest: gone.
In Google search, I was haunted by one photo that I couldn’t erase: The one from my engagement in 2013, which had made the local papers for unknown reasons. It showed us on a rooftop at night, illuminated by hundreds of twinkling lights, under a big black Alabama sky. His back is to the camera and I’m in silhouette, with a blonde shag and black leather jacket, disguising just how young we were. I became obsessed with that picture. I emailed the Greensboro News & Record multiple times. I routinely reported the search result to Google. When prompted for a reason from a list, I chose the option: “It contains sensitive personal information.” The sensitive personal information in question: there is a relic of my tenderness online, and I would like it destroyed.
It took over a year and I never heard back directly from Google or the News & Record, but one day when I searched my name, the photo was gone.
Then, there was Instagram. The final boss of social media erasure. I took some initial, faltering steps. Made my account private. Removed followers. Deleted hundreds of photos. As I scrolled back through my grid, closely examining then archiving the posts, I was surprised to feel tears forming. I didn’t realize how much I relied on this digital version of me to understand who I was, or to reassure me that I was. It felt a bit like taking a gun to my own coping mechanisms. I stopped short of full erasure but the idea still appeals to me.
It’s not cool to be so calculating about crafting an online identity, but I can’t help it. I’m obsessed with social media: the affected nonchalance of it. I am not a nonchalant person and never have been. On MySpace and Facebook, I’d agonize over my profile pictures, cover photos, status updates. But my obsession with curating my own image started way before that. (Probably with my Neopets guild, but we’ll jump ahead for brevity’s sake). As a pre-teen, I’d cut out photos of lithe and smooth-skinned women to pin to my closet door. I’d arrange and rearrange my room for some unseen audience. I’d study my classmates for clues, convinced that everyone else had gotten a handbook I somehow missed: here’s how a pretty girl applies lip gloss, here’s how to joke with boys at lunch, here’s how to pretend you don’t care at all when you actually care quite a lot.
I had a suspicion that I was somehow not-quite-right, but brightly optimistic that I could close the gap. I made some strategic optimizations: decommissioned my transition lenses, tanned for hours on my trampoline, lightening my hair with Sun-In and sustaining myself with 90-calorie Quaker granola bars. I climbed at least two rungs on the social ladder. I took this as confirmation of my theory, gleefully abandoning the past version of me that had yielded sub-optimal results. This was Lane 2.0, new and improved.
There would be a procession of Lanes after that. They are all documented in vivid detail in my journals. I’ve kept notebooks since I could write, starting in earnest at age 16. Both in my journals and on social media, I alternately love and despise the girl I see represented there. In my recent writing class, we read Joan Didion’s “On Keeping a Notebook” in which she perfectly sums up my relationship with these past Lanes:
I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be; one of them, a seventeen-year-old, presents little threat, although it would be of some interest to me to know again what it feels like to sit on a river levee drinking vodka-and-orange-juice and listening to Les Paul and Mary Ford and their echoes sing "How High the Moon" on the car radio. [...]
The other one, a twenty-three-year-old, bothers me more. She was always a good deal of trouble, and I suspect she will reappear when I least want to see her, skirts too long, shy to the point of aggravation, always the injured party, full of recriminations and little hurts and stories I do not want to hear again, at once saddening me and angering me with her vulnerability and ignorance, an apparition all the more insistent for being so long banished.
Some versions of me I adore: 17-year-old Lane, delirious and ridiculous and rapturous as she discovers art and music and writing (thinking she might have been the very first person to do so), reads Jack Kerouac and David Sedaris and Twilight, runs rampant on the Guilford College campus, gets her first boyfriend, goes through her first breakup. I want to kiss her dear pink cheeks, I love her so.
Other versions I’d rather forget entirely. I can’t bear to read my journals from 2014 because of how little I recognize the person writing them. I feel almost antagonistic toward her: 21-year-old me, infuriating in her certainty, convinced she had all the answers; absolutely exhausting in her calculations, contorting herself to fit whatever shape would be the most advantageous — the way I’d learned in middle school. Online, it’s that Lane who embarrasses me most with her transparent striving. It’s particularly maddening because that impulse never left me. It’s still in me, and so is she. They all are.
I can delete questionable tweets and over-thought Instagram posts and aspirational Pinterest boards, but all of these versions of me are still fully intact: in my journals, in others’ memories (fortunately or not), and in the person I am and am becoming. I feel an immense tenderness toward the past Lanes for how they’ve shaped me. They seem at once foreign and extremely familiar. As Didion put it: “We are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.”
…they just don’t all need to live forever on the internet.
I won’t disappear entirely. I just revived this newsletter after all! I’ll keep documenting, and I’ll take another Joan Didion quote as my mission statement: “To remember what it was to be me: That was always the point.”
(I got my notification to ⚠️BeReal⚠️ while writing this.)
Love, Lane 💋
In related reading, I’m fascinated with the ephemeral direction social media is headed: Gen Z archives all their photos, Instagram is dead, TikTok has killed the newsfeed, BeReal offers us a new (if dubious) definition of authenticity
My Phoebe Bridgers x Catbird NYC friendship charm from Melody
The Porch, Nashville’s nonprofit writing community. It’s not an overstatement to say that discovering this organization in 2022 has changed my life.
How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alex Chee
Cha Cha Real Smooth, a new all-time favorite movie that I watched last night while recovering from the double-whammy of a COVID booster and flu shot
Thanks for reading Obsessions! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.