Most social media platforms have a space for a short biography of some sorts. An ‘About Me’, maybe a paragraph or so. Couple hundred words at the most. ‘Tell us about yourself!’, they ask. ‘Distill everything you are, and everything you want to be, into a soundbite elevator pitch’. How do you do that? How do you choose your definitions?
For a lot of people, the list of descriptors they tag themselves with changes over time. Some tags are core, unchanging, and don’t necessarily need to be stated (height, gender, race). Some are more personal and fluid, and change over time (hobbies, jobs, interests). Some are stretch goals (your gym membership does not make you a weightlifter in and of itself), but they make their subject feel better about themselves. Each tag will have it’s own personal meaning to you, and it can never fully express how you see yourself within it.
I, for example, use the word ‘traveller’ in most of my online mini-bios. The word has many different interpretations, and everybody who reads it will assign a different mental picture to me. Some will picture a ‘gap yah’-type backpacking through south-east Asia. Others, a gaggle of Asian tourists with selfie sticks underneath the Eiffel Tower. Or maybe a bearded hobo hiking the Appalachian trail, a red-spotted hanky tied to a stick slung over his shoulder. The word alone is not enough to portray my own vision of who that part of me is.
Or what about ‘writer’? I don’t really consider myself a writer; essentially all of what I write is contained in this blog. I don’t think that’s enough to warrant the description personally, but I imagine there are people out there who label themselves writers who write even less than me. It’s what they want the world to see them as. They want people to picture a Macbook on a table in a sun-filled coffee shop, the studious gentleman at the keyboard in a black turtleneck, sipping on an overpriced flat white as he types up his latest novella. Or whatever their own vision of ‘writer’ is, even if that vision isn’t what people see when they read the word.
Definitions aren’t permanent, whichever ones you choose to use. They change with you. Sometimes subtly; I haven’t been running for six months, so I can’t call myself a runner anymore, but when did the change happen? After a week? A month? Three? Sometimes the change is definitive; I stopped calling myself a student the day I graduated University. Keeping old definitions can be gratifying, but it’s not honest. Some titles expire if you don’t maintain them, which should be motivation enough to keep them current.
I don’t maintain myself particularly well in terms of my web biographies. No doubt at least some pages out there still declare me as a student, despite graduating over two years ago. Nonetheless, in an effort to maintain at least some form of short, up-to-date description, I’ll be henceforth maintaining a now page which will be permanently accessible with the url slug /now. It won’t be exactly synonymous with the descriptors I’ve talked about in this post, but it’s a way of keeping myself updated. I may implement some form of historical log too at some point, but for now I’m content with just incorporating monthly updates into my workflow.
I’ll try to keep my definitions in check.
Update January 2017: Since writing this article, I’ve moved my now link to http://now.camerondoyle.co.uk (as opposed to the /now slug). The links in this post have been updated to reflect this change.