In a pre-digital era, my teacher told me pigeons and telegraphs were the means available for communication. Today, keyboards and computers have turned things around immensely. Living a digital life has made a self-supporting life a huge reality. It has also unleashed myriads of issues that have altered the collective sense of reality. I spend a great deal of my day online, and the type of life I’m living today would not have been possible, say 20 years ago. My identity is undeniably intertwined with my digital presence. While a negative presence has proven to have adverse effects, a positive digital presence has significantly benefitted my life. In this essay, I shall discuss how my digital presence has influenced my life in reality, while suggesting ways of optimizing life both online and offline.
First things first; what does digital presence connote for a person?
One’s ‘digital presence’ or ‘online presence’ is the collective existence of an individual, found online via searches. An individual’s online presence can come via his or her website, social media channels, online publications, memberships to associations listed online, and so on .
The impact of an individual having a digital presence is hugely positive. And this is only a taste of what the internet, and technological breakthroughs in general, provides.
There is almost no area in which digital technology and connectivity have not impacted my life. It has become like oxygen, utterly essential to my daily routine. I have more flexibility and can work from home. My reading culture has exploded exponentially too. I have been able to be connected to the largest library ever — the internet. From e-books to blockbuster novels; all can be downloaded just by a tap of the keyboard. Everything I read online presents an opportunity to learn a new thing and explore new frontiers of ideas.
My digital presence has also made me traverse geographical coordinates, making friends in the process — close friends with whom I communicate frequently. We have never met in person nor spoken over the phone. With the digital presence which internet connectivity provides, I can more easily keep in regular contact with friends in distant places. I can now maintain a relationship with that ‘babe,’ and I can take it to a deep and interactive nature if I want, via social media.
Keeping a family messaging group chat openly with my parents and siblings on WhatsApp, I certainly remain very connected. No day passes without some communication amongst us despite our dispersed locations. Though this interaction does not replace phone calls and visits but complements them.
Much as the Covid-19 pandemic has presented the world with a new normal, revolutionizing the way we travel and transact our daily routines, my digital devices and smartphone have enabled me to participate in many events and webinars organized in different countries without having to travel to them. Being a registered Engineer and member of our professional body, I can attend seminars and Engineering Assemblies from the comfort of my room, all thanks to the Zoom App. I have also participated in various online courses.
While there are incredible benefits digital presence provides, I have become a victim of its negative effects. For instance, I’ve lost count of the number of times I have received requests for urgent 2k (N2,000). Some don’t hesitate to brandish their bank account numbers in the process. I always shudder because I have had an intense battle with interview frustrations and finding a decent and steady job; yet, a few have the erroneous conception that I was doing well already and maybe working in an oil company. Sadly, this is a result of how I have portrayed myself in WhatsApp statuses alongside Instagram and Facebook posts. Unknown to me, I have presented myself in the way I’d like to be seen, without knowing that it was somewhat deceptive.
Much as Real-time chat and messenger apps have helped me connect with people, the habit of placing a phone call across and talking about things in a meaningful way is gradually being eroded. Inadvertently, I have gotten so used to my mobile phone that it’s somewhat challenging for me to interact physically with others for some length of time. Little wonder I barely look at people in the eye these days when I am speaking to them. This is all because I have become accustomed to real-time interactions over the internet, so much so that maintaining eye contact when talking to people physically, becomes problematic. I’ve also become addicted to typing and writing in short words.
Meanwhile, I am worried that Facebook and Twitter are making me fall for the increasing social anxieties present in society today. Yet, I realize that social media is as destructive as they are potentially beneficial in their acceleration of communications, but I rarely seem to get a break. This development may have propelled veteran Nigerian actor, Yul Edochie to say in a tweet; ‘Many youths are under a lot of pressure these days. Sadly, it’s not the pressure to achieve; but the pressure to look like they are achieving. And social media is largely responsible for it. ’ Sincerely, I cannot agree more, because I am already a victim of this reality.
As a result of my digitally-mediated lifestyle, I now suffer from a serious behavioural addiction that makes it pretty much impossible to pay attention to my spiritual life. I seemingly lack the discipline not to look at messenger apps or monitor the cryptocurrency graph before bed and first thing upon waking. I cringe at how many emails, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter notifications I already have waiting for me to attend to. Regrettably, the need to keep up takes away from my time in ways that I forget to pray and meditate.
Another bad effect of my digital presence is that I spend huge hours in front of a computer screen and mobile (phone) screen either communicating, writing, or searching for information. The consequence for me physically is that I am sitting too much and I have chronic back and waist pains. My eyes also experience bouts of pain after staying such incredible hours in front of a computer.
Ways (I Adopted) To Optimize Life Online And Offline
Living life online and offline has come to stay and is a new reality everyone has to contend with. However, the question is; how do we make the best or most effective use of it?
First for me was the realization that my digital/online presence should reflect who I am — whether I am online or offline; no faking it at all. My personality can be highlighted on social media for instance without faking it. I also developed the foresight to scrutinize my online behaviour, to think twice about who’s viewing my status updates, photos, and post before ever I cross the Rubicon on any online platform.
I have also realized that having a positive online presence can impact perception and improve personal relationships. This means that when someone looks me up online, what they see can affect the way they choose to interact with me. So, by putting my best foot forward with my online presence, I open myself to new situations and better opportunities.
Meanwhile, to curb some behavioural addictions which is a fall-out of my digital presence obsession, I decided to put my smartphone out of my bedroom before sleeping. I also learnt to discipline myself not to pick it up until I’ve had some moments of prayer and meditation upon waking up from sleep and doing a few offline activities.
Needless to say, I went cold turkey on social media, especially on those platforms I’ve had the most of engagements and distractions. At first, it was difficult because I felt I would never survive a world without social interactions on the internet. But over the days, I found myself coming back to a healthy lifestyle both online and offline. By taking time to unplug, disconnect, and then reconnect with virtual reality made for a more productive and focused life for me.
Over those periods of solitude, and being offline, I resolved to stop writing in short words. It was then I realized how unsightly and to what extent it had stunted my mental growth. Today, whether writing offline with a pen and paper or punching my smartphone keypads, my words are spelt in full. I would still go on to insist that my siblings spell their words in full when we communicate on our family WhatsApp messenger chat.
In all, shaping one’s digital presence will be a lifelong endeavour. It may be demanding, but I always strive to create a positive reality, — both online and offline. Going forward with these adoptions, I’m sure I’ll definitely enjoy the ride with my online, offline and real-life realities. Yes, I will.
Chukwuemeka Oluka is a graduate of Electronic and Computer Engineering from the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State. He is a research enthusiast and a passionate writer. He writes in from Enugu and can be reached via “firstname.lastname@example.org”