Establishing a Sense of Self in URL Utopia


By Abi Buller

Photography by @mollycranna

Photography by @mollycranna


Is the IRL you the same as the URL you? Is there really a difference between these two lives anymore?


The idea of a life lived in the ‘real world’ in contrast to the digital one is a concept which is holding less and less relevance as the two lives become intertwined. Despite our lives connecting in more ways than ever, particularly in the ways we interact with friends, the information we choose to present is often derived from the same human desires. Our earliest forms of communication can be owed to storytelling, with the use of images positioned alongside short phrases to give across a certain message. This is not dissimilar to the motives behind the content we post - conveyed to entertain, educate and appease, among a whole host of other emotive needs. 


We speak in emojis and memes and find ourselves checking up on the affirmative blue ticks to alert us with the satisfaction (or dread) that our message has been read. It’s not unusual for our ‘real life’ sentences to start with ‘’did you see that thing…’’ and for us to immediately rack our brains for our latest scroll on our social feeds to recall if we did in fact see that thing. Our lives are our feeds and our feeds are our lives. Of course not for everyone but certainly for more of the population than ever before. Identity struggles have been offered a new lease of life through digital avatars taking the spotlight from actual human models, with computer-generated influencers like @lilmiquela and @lil_wavy beginning to pave the way for new fashion and lifestyle inspiration. This begs the question: Do the same boundaries exist for the visual representation of a virtual human as they do for an actual human? Lil_miquela’s recent cover appearance on King Kong magazine attracted a backlash against her ‘robot ass’, with other images attracting comments which dubbed the model as a ‘doll’ and called out her ‘fakeness’. 


But why are people so concerned about digital influencers being ‘fake’, when a curated, brand-sponsored influencer feed could be no less ‘real’ than the fact that the face behind the feed is a living, breathing individual. 

Perhaps we should all live in the mindset of lil_wavy, who’s bio reads: ‘’Lets float in a virtual wave and stay lost’’. An acceptance of a ‘virtual wave’ in which we can lose ourselves makes the whole experience seem more relatable in the sense that there exists an affinity with what we think of as our ‘real lives’. The complex narrative of digital influencers continues to entrance Instagrammars, particularly as the controversial relationship between Lil_Miquela and Bermuda unfolds to alert followers of Lil_Miquela’s ‘big reveal’ of her status as a virtual human. While much of this activity remains unexplained, the point of their existence on the whole could be related to wider movements in technological society as our physical and digital worlds are becoming ever more fluid. 


Could it be that a virtual human has been created to pave the way for more ethically sustainable fashion and lifestyle influencers? These robot influencers have a social media presence, style of dress and interests similar to human influencers in the fashion and lifestyle industries. So what is different about them? Their virtual lives have really thrown people and wavered people’s sense of online ‘trust’, encouraging critics to lash out against her in disloyalty towards her as a PR stunt/money-maker/disconcerting digital avatar. Her unsettling ‘realness’ in some senses could simply be an opportunity to display to people the similarities in online fakeness displayed by the majority of Instagram-users. Our physical lives often comprise of equally unexpected turns and can also make us feel lost and uncertain in the same ways as our digital offerings. Despite the realities of our day to day activities, real lives can be warped and enhanced to feed the addictive algorithms of our feeds, lending a nod towards the digital dystopian futures imagined in Netflix series Black Mirror and recent influencer film Ingrid Goes West


With influencer culture and even peer to peer comparison seeping further into our online interactions, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to decipher what is an authentic digital communication and what has been fabricated for the purposes of online kudos. 


While our feeds are curated to show our best selves, does that make them less ‘real’ or just more polished?


Particularly for creatives, an Instagram feed can act as a journal or digital sketchbook; a filtered dumping ground for letting everyone know what we’ve been up to, what we love and hate, and who we’ve been hanging out with. Then comes the decision of whether something should be granted the privilege of being placed on our precious profile page or if it should be offered a more fleeting interaction in the form of an Instagram story or a Snapchat post. Despite having similar functionality, somehow Instagram stories still seem to deserve stronger curation than the free-spirited, face-filtered fun that comes with Snapchat interactions. Generally branded content seems to be less invasive on Snapchat and somehow most of us feel more comfortable showing our unedited selves via this medium. Both of these platforms also allow us to engage in the addictive functionality of location-services, allowing us to raise a digital flag in the cafe, park, museum or city that we happen to be residing in at a current moment. 


When a mistake is made and an image just doesn’t fit, you can even make use of the option to archive your Instagram posts - comforted in the knowledge that ‘only you can see the posts you’ve archived’. There you go, feels as safe as a Secret Pinterest board….