Digital Projections of Real People

You never know what it takes for a person to show the world one, single smile.

There is a digital world at our fingertips wherein we can present to others a simulated version of who we imagine ourselves to be, living the life we fantasize about, while receiving the praise, acknowledgement, and appreciation we only wish that we received in real life. If we are dissatisfied with our lives, we can dive into our digital world where we are who we want to be, where we have innumerable ‘friends’ and ‘followers,’ and where we are never sad, alone, or depressed. Even as our lives feel like they falling apart around us, we can post, engage, and simulate a life wherein we are popular, loved, and surrounded by the community of support and appreciation.

This digital life is really not that much different from the training simulator in ‘The Matrix,’ as Morpheus describes it to Neo: ”Your clothes are different, the plugs in your arms and head are gone, your hair has changed. Your appearance now is what we call ‘residual self-image’. It is the mental projection of your digital self.” While social media is more like the digital projections of our mental selves than the mental projections of our digital selves, the problem is that the lines between what is real and what is projected are blurring. We are losing track of who we are, who and what is in front of us, and who we really want to be in our real lives.

When we engage each other online, it is important to remember that, behind every digital projection,* there is a real person, with a real life, and real feelings. Another person’s projected self may seem confident, happy, self-assured, and fulfilled, but the reality is that we never truly know what a person is going through in his or her personal or internal life based simply by what he or she posts online. None of us in is exempted from loneliness, pain, fear, or struggle in this life, so we must treat each other accordingly, regardless of whether we meet in the digital world or in the flesh.

*Trolls, bots, and AI notwithstanding


Holistic Budo: As it is in budo, so too it is in life. As it is in life, so too it is in budo.

Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, as well as a founding member of the Severna Park and Baltimore Holistic Chamber of Commerce.

Artwork by Ana, except where otherwise noted.

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