September 28, 2019

How does the artifice of online identity allow us to be more open about mental health?

Lila Darkstar

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Video installationHold Me, 2019

It is estimated that we touch our phones 200-300 times a day. Yet this close physical relationship with digital devices is by no means the sole manifestation of intimacy. The divide or boundary that the screen presents along with virtual aliases means that online spaces become arenas to reveal our deepest thoughts, insecurities and concerns.

Summed up in a phrase that is becoming synonymous with our time, ‘Alone Together’, (the title of MIT technology and society professor Sherry Turkle’s much quoted text), we exist in a paradox. Simultaneously isolated from those we share our physical spaces with and supported by new networks spanning vast distances, we find both comfort and acute loneliness.

Our smartphones take the place of therapists and through forums, social media and chat spaces, we reveal a side of ourselves (ironically, quite publicly) that we might feel uncomfortable revealing to friends and family. Reality and artifice collide when digital masks, near anonymity, and the fluidity of online identities open up new avenues to be more honest and open about our mental health.

Collaging together snippets from conversations, anonymised questions posed online and the responses they receive, ‘Hold Me’ studies self-expression, anxiety and the shared quest for belonging.