I live in New Zealand, I was born in Indonesia with a disability, I went to public schools where I had great teachers, I grew up in a stable family that (I assume) has always loved me, I have an all right number of passable friends, I go to the University of Auckland. Some of these things are important.
None of these things made me.
That statement is not entirely true. I acknowledge that my parents’ decision to move to New Zealand was probably influential. I can’t fathom what would have changed had I not moved here — Would I have been more religious? Would I have been more successful? Did this decision make me who I am today? I have no idea, but I’m pretty sure it had at least some impact, and in this way I accept that my parents made me.
Another factor which may have made me who I am is my disability. For better or worse, this has had a larger impact on my life. It has made me a cautious, anxious person and has been the major source of my otherness. It is perhaps this otherness that has led me to seek virtual spaces where physical exertion is unnecessary for enjoyment.
The bulk of my personality was formed on the internet; my thoughts and values molded by my time in game, music, film, blogs and forums. I hadn’t really used the internet for much other than playing flash games and reading scanlated manga until I was around 10. It was around that time that my love of books was replaced by the easily accessible, digestible entertainment that can be found online. Internet native — this is what educators call students who grow up in the digital age. In reality, I was more a digital immigrant, moving into this new world as it developed while I aged into young adulthood. The music I listen to and the books I’ve read have been defined by the likes of Reddit, 4chan and the various music blogs that shill their sound of the future. (As an aside, websites like Reddit and 4chan are banned in Indonesia, and I am curious whether a censored internet would have hamstrung its influence over me.) My aimless virtual wandering has also impacted my morality, as my values are based on the consensus of the spaces I reside in online. It is these consensuses, these aggregations of ideas that have made me who I am, rather than any person I could individually name.
My relationship with the internet is not that simple even though it is constantly making me. I’ve never had a Twitter account, yet I check Twitter every day to witness fanwars and political fights. I go on Instagram to keep up with my favourite musicians, but would never consider creating one myself. The internet is the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning and the last before I go to bed. It has probably become the biggest influencer in how I think, how I feel, how I treat the people around me. Despite this, I don’t have much of an online footprint. I refuse to participate in most online discussions because too many of them devolve into trolling, flaming, and general negativity. My Facebook was created only after years of pressure; it’s barely used.
There is an inherent irony in the fact that I am simultaneously immersed in and isolated by the internet. Perhaps I am genetically predisposed to being reserved, quiet, passive in reality and in virtual spaces, and perhaps this fate has made me me more than the internet has. Or maybe I’m just too lazy to post stuff online.
I don’t remember having a distinct personality before high school, before I spent most of my time facing the black mirror of a screen. I may be overstating the influences of my favourite virtual spaces, but in my mind there is a dearth of defining childhood experiences. Though there have been good moments, I find it telling that I measure time passing through milestones in the virtual space; from decade-long video game release schedules to re-watching favourite underground musicians blow up on social media. Though the internet may be a tool to create content and connect with people around the world, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that it is also the opposite. It is a mechanism through which people like me can be influenced and their identities formed and solidified.