Lessons Learned from Ze Frank (Being Me)
Speaking of microcelebrities… a few weeks ago, Ze Frank put an open call out (via twitter) for individuals who were interested in giving up their Facebook profiles – and handing them over to him. Eager to rid myself of my growing addiction, I answered the call, wrote a page-long primer on how to be be “virtual Christine Huang,” and hoped he would find my Facebook identity appealing enough to want to appropriate. Amazingly, out of the hundreds of his followers who responded, Ze chose mine to be one of the two to overtake.
What resulted was an interesting experience/experiment on both his and my end. Having been relieved of handling one of my several internet identities for a week, I came to think a lot about the philosophical and ethical implications of giving up my identity to a complete stranger. How much of my real-life persona had become entangled with my virtual one? Was this experiment an implicit deceit of all my 550-some Facebook friends? And if so – would anyone notice? Or care? And if they did both notice and care – would they remember, or would it just become another buried blip on their Facebook friend feed? Ze’s status as a public figure seemed to be the only reason I trusted him with my identity – but what did I really know about Ze? I had never met the guy, and the only things I knew about him were the things I read online – what he presented to the world. And as his experiment pointed out, anyone’s virtual identity is as easily manipulated, forged, and eradicated as clicking a few buttons.
So for a week Ze was me, and I was… not on Facebook. He didn’t do anything too out of the ordinary; he tried to re-establish some long lost friendships through facebook messages and wall posts; he changed my profile picture to a very unflattering photo of me doing a handstand in purple spandex; and he exchanged somewhat suggestive messages with a Facebook friend I had told him was my crush-of-the-moment. And when it was all over, I can’t say I wasn’t a bit sad; a big part of me wanted Ze to take “me” away from myself for good. The sabbatical, though, did quell my addiction – I came to realize how much time I had gotten used to wasting on the site, uploading photos, making comments, writing people I could just as easily call – and decided I didn’t want to be thinking about that stuff anymore. All in all, no harm was done – and I was gifted with one of my most productive, creative weeks in recent memory.