I read a New Yorker article recently about the end of the era of the online personal essay. The premise of the essaay was that during the Obama years, it was really common for people to write these long, indulgent articles about themselves online. About their personal struggles, about their journeys, about their nuances, whatever. In many ways these articles were the logical culmination of the LiveJournal/ Xanga/ Tumblr fads of the 2000s. But now, during the Trump era, when people are so focused on the serious and often problematic events in the news, the personal essay has mostly faded into obscurity. Websites like Thought Catalog, BuzzFeed.com, and LongReads are becoming less popular. Gawker is an example of a personal essay website that has altogether died out.
I agree with the thesis of that article. I myself am a product of the online personal essay era. I had a Xanga. I had a LiveJournal. I had a Tumblr. I loved reading longreads articles on lazy Sundays when I was in college. I thought it was normal and okay to share so much about yourself online. It was reflecting on the repercussions of the end of that era that led me to start this website. I wrote a lot of personal essays on the internet during the past five years or so, and I feel like they are outdated both in their form, i.e. the literary form of the online personal essay, as well as in their content, i.e. conflicted attempts to carve out a nonconformist position within Mormonism. The culmination of that was probably 2013, when this guy at Harvard wrote his undergraduate journalism thesis on me, about my life. I thought it as so cool at the time--like, wow, a guy at Harvard is writing about me!--but now I feel so humiliated and embarassed. I think my Mormon self was really ugly, while in some ways I'm sure I was just as confused as lots of kids at BYU, it's a shame that my struggles in particular are public fodder for mass consumption on the internet.
When I look at my online landmark, my digital signature, well, 90 to 95% of what you find about me on the internet involves some sort of discussion of race, gender, and/or sexuality within Mormon culture. I no longer identify as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I've come to identify as bisexual rather than gay, I'm pursuiing a career in finance now rather than art history, and I've been doing the paleo diet and have been the member of a CrossFit box for almost a full year now. It's kind of uncomfortable for me to see a digital version of myself, enshrined on Google from four or five years ago, that no longer reflects the person whom I am in the present. I wish I could just snap my fingers and instantly create a digital footprint that actively reflects who I am in 2017, but I know I can't just snap my fingers and do that right away. So this website is a modest investment in the idea that I can one day reclaim my digital signature and build the online identity that actually reflects myself and who I am.