All we have is tucked inside our heads


Someone said that to me recently. I think what he meant was that nobody has access to our innermost thoughts, and we are the ultimate guardians of our own identities.Pheromones and body-language notwithstanding, we choose how much and what aspects of ourselves to share with the world.

Everyone must know of someone who lives a closeted double life – publically straight, gay behind closed doors, for example. That is down the extreme end of the spectrum, but to some extent, everyone with self-awareness is forging – perhaps in the dual meanings of both creating and falsifying – their own public identity.

Take the humble curriculum vitae as a case study. I have never read a CV that declared its owner to be unreasonable or incompetent, and yet I have rubbed shoulders with the occasional colleague who fits this description.

In the digital age, the creation and sharing of an idealised identity is only intensifying. Unrepresentative samples of our lives make it into our Facebook status updates, and photos of ourselves can be airbrushed to perfection.

It is a sobering thought that digital archaeologists of the future might get a more accurate picture of our lives from studying our credit card bills than from the bits of our lives we choose to write about and take pictures of.

So if the uncensored version of your identity exists only inside your head, and nobody else knows your inner workings, does that mean that everyone is essentially an island? And if so, which is more important – the ‘island’ you inside your head, or the ‘you’ as shared with other people?

Taking the analogy of an island, imagine yourself to be stranded on one, Robinson Crusoe-style. You have no hope of ever being rescued, of seeing, speaking to, hugging, or laughing with another person as long as you live.

Do you still feel that you, your life, is worthwhile? In despair, do you let yourself starve to death or die of thirst, or find the nearest cliff to jump off? Or do you find meaning in your own private world?

You could study seabird behaviour, create beautiful works of cave art, or compose poems and recite them to the wind and waves. Barring moments of despair, I think most people would choose the latter course.

But still, life is surely better shared. Welcome to the human archipelago.


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