Delete Your Account is an initiative by curators Willa Köerner and Alex Teplitzky that seeks to unearth the intricacies and horrors of the past lives of people on early forms of social media. The project’s digital incarnation is a blog filled with sporadic user-submitted posts consisting of harrowing LiveJournal excerpts, goofy IM exchanges, and attempts at artsy Myspace defaults from the more naïve days of the internet.
Köerner and Teplitzky, in conjunction with pop-up digital art laboratory POWRPLNT, recently hosted an event at Hunter’s East Harlem Gallery, which consisted of a menagerie of readings, performances, and media sharing. The Creators Project caught up with the two curators to discuss the motivations behind unearthing their older social media selves and their thoughts on the differences between social media interaction then in comparison to the fully-formed beast it is today.
The Creators Project: What was the impetus for Delete Your Account?
Köerner: The idea for the event happened when Alex and I both started remembering our early LiveJournals at a little party in my yard, where it seemed like nobody else had those early internet memories. We wondered how and why we had had such an extreme obsession with LiveJournal.
After that night, we both started revisiting our LiveJournals and texting each other the most hilarious/bad snippets, wondering, How is this stuff still online? How had we forgotten about it? We wanted to turn the joy, embarrassment, and also pride (weird, right?!) we felt when revisiting our bad (but also sort of amazing) early net selves with others, and think about it in a more focused way. What are the forces at play here? What have we all learned in the last 10 years as we’ve matured and refined ourselves in tandem with the Net?
You maintain a Tumblr of awkward moments on the internet, but you also hosted a live event. How was the live experience different from the blog?
Teplitzky: We structured the live experience as a poetry reading. But in contrast to a normal poetry reading, the Delete Your Account readings were meant to be embarrassing, super personal, and ridiculous. The more TMI the better. As the night went on, more and more people seemed to have a need to get things off their chest: like, "can you believe I wrote this shit?" And yet it was a safe space because everyone’s contribution was embarrassing and ridiculous in its own unique way.
I found it so refreshing to hear these personal, yet outdated literary expressions. On the contrary, with social media today, only the smartest, most intelligent quips and variations on memes are rewarded. Everyone at the reading recognised that what people read didn’t really represent who they are today. Now we judge each other’s social media brand so harshly and instantly that it’s almost too scary to be yourself online, unless it’s some sort of processed, tested identity that you know will work.
In the project description you mention that this is an "open call for all the things you should probably delete from the internet, but just can’t." Does this mean that the project's title is mostly symbolic, referencing how we want to delete our older internet selves but can't? Does the internet need more ways to destroy past archives or is it crucial to the experience?
Köerner: Great question. One big, troubling idea that all of this old LiveJournal digging up has left me with is, to what extent do we owe it to our past selves to preserve and conserve our past digital selves?
Reading through all the stuff on my own LiveJournal was actually a really interesting experience—I found very articulate accounts of specific events and emotions I had, which I had completely forgotten about. I feel way more in touch with my past self after reading this stuff, but I don’t know if I need it to be online, since it’s so personal. Where are the tools for keeping a personal online archive? What’s the line between your personal online self, your public online persona, and your past self? Where does one stop and the other begin?
Teplitzky: When Facebook became the principal social media platform, it started going around that HR departments were using it to see what their potential candidates were really like. I think there is this constant fear that people will be punished for expressing their most authentic selves on the internet. We don’t want to encourage people to actually delete their accounts. On the contrary, we want to make a stage for the material that in any other situation you would want to censor.
Teens today still do embarrassing stuff on the internet, but they seem much more in control of their 'brands' than people who are now in their 30s. Why do you think that is?
Köerner: For teens today, they see no divide between the internet and what they do in real life, because platforms and online services have evolved to have such specific ways of engaging that all are based on established social norms. Today’s teens are teaching each other how to use these platforms en masse, deciding as a group what’s cool, and censoring themselves in the same ways online as they’d censor themselves when around their friends, teachers, families, etc. When we were teens, everything was so much smaller, so much more nascent and empty. Nobody knew what to do with their LiveJournal, really. Everything was being discovered afresh, there were no social norms associated with the internet.
Teplitzky: Platforms have evolved. There’s a reason Friendster didn’t work. Why Myspace resonated with us more, and why we stopped using it when Facebook and Tumblr came around. In the same way, our personalities have evolved as we got older. We abandoned the parts of ourselves that didn’t fit with society, and we emphasised what worked. The predominant instinct is to be frightened at how adept kids are at using social media these days. But my reaction is to study it and enjoy it.
What are your future plans for the project?
Köerner: We’d like to do more events, and we encourage people to submit to the Delete Your Account Tumblr. We’d love to do another event soon—one that involves the songs we used to listen to while making our bad early Net posts. So, if anyone out there reading this happens to own a karaoke bar and is interested in having Alex and me host our next event chez toi, hit us up via the Tumblr!
Check out Delete Your Account here.