The Ambivalent Digital Native

The first in a series of blog posts on digital technology and contemporary art

Born in the mid-80s, I am (by birthright) a first generation digital native. In reality, I am somewhat on the cusp: young enough not to have had to learn how to ‘do’ the internet, but old enough (and very thankful) to have had blissfully anonymous Facebook-free years in my teens.

My very first digital experience was moving the cursor around a Microsoft Paint canvas in the 90s, drawing pixelated multicolour sea creatures. It wasn’t until my first year at university that my older sister set up my email account (for the express purpose of getting me out to work), and not until the second year that I discovered MySpace.

I remember the distinct thrill in finding someone I knew and seeing they were online. The possibilities of that connection in real time, and the open window into someone else’s life, meant I would be submerged for hours, engrossed in scattered browsing, listening to music, writing on walls and gazing at pictures.

It was also the first place where I marked out my own identity online, with carefully selected wallpaper, a song to set the mood for visitors to my page and a pithy ‘about’ me line.

MySpace (at its best) was a platform for sharing creative talents and it was there that I began to blog. My posts would take on topics from feminism to Kate Moss or whatever else had caught my unfaithful attention.

Along with millions of other people around the world, I made the slow migration from MySpace to Facebook. Reluctant at first, I moved over in 2007 and only when it was inevitable.

This time the thrill of finding friends was somewhat dulled as it felt more like a chore. My approach was always to be added, rather than to add. Photos are what made Facebook stand out in the early days. I shared plenty, and often, and no trip or occasion was complete until a selection of the most flattering images were uploaded for all present and absent to look at, and like.

I have since changed, as has Facebook, but we’re not headed in the same direction. As my professional life has grown and matured, I have made connections with people all over the world. But I have also increasingly withdrawn from social media, on a personal level.

There is really no one image or statement that I want to share with all of my ‘friends’, so I tend to withhold these days. I’ve moved on and I find that Facebook doggedly drags me to the past with its insistent hording of information.

This question about what to share, how much and with whom, marks my current relationship with social media. I regularly consider leaving Facebook, but stay because it is where many of my colleagues promote their exhibitions and events. In truth, it has become a useful tool for connecting with artists and art professionals internationally.

Facebook offers a casual hello; a door slightly ajar should you want to work together in the future. But this transition from the personal to professional ensures any visit to the site leaves me with an amalgam of baby showers and art biennials embossed onto my retina.

I have accounts on Twitter and Instagram. I browse often, share inconsistently and follow in fits and bursts. I’ve come to realise that digital is not just about social media. Beyond these platforms (centred on self-image and profile), I would like to believe I have embraced digital.

I have apps to organise, convert and capture. Advances in digital photography allow me to take an awesome picture. Most importantly, my professional life as a curator and writer is endlessly entwined with our present digital condition. I contribute regularly to online magazines and work with artists who engage critically and creatively with digital technology.

Developing an independent curatorial practice, and establishing a content writing business online, will continue to alter my relationship with the digital world. I’ve transitioned from purely personal use, dominated by social media, to learning how to capitalise on digital technology for my own professional future.

So I’m dusting off the wallpaper and staking my online claim once more.

Originally posted on Digital Women UK