Doug Bruns

“My whole life I’ve been a fraud.”

In Technology, The Examined Life, The infinity of ideas, Writing on May 6, 2012 at 8:00 am

This is a repost. I’m out of the country. Should fortune be shining on me, I will be nowhere near internet connectivity, as you read this.


Sherry Turkle is a professor at MIT who is studying the effects of social media and cellphones on children. She has interviewed over 400 young people and their parents. In a recent article in the New York Times Magazine she is reported to worry that “the self was increasingly becoming externally manufactured rather than internally developed.” The journalist, Peggy Orenstein, quotes Turkle: “On Twitter or Facebook you’re trying to express something real about who you are, but because you’re also creating something for others’ consumption, you find yourself imagining and playing to your audience more and more. So those moments in which you’re supposed to be showing your true self become performance.”

I am reminded of the beginning of David Foster Wallace’s short story “Good Old Neon.” The story, his last great story, won an O. Henry Award and is mostly the recollection of a now-deceased advertising executive. It begins this way: “My whole life I’ve been a fraud. I’m not exaggerating. Pretty much all I’ve ever done all the time is try to create a certain impression of me in other people.”

  1. Jonathan Franzen’s writing is as close to David Foster Wallace as I have read. Perhaps you have another suggestion. The fraud theme reminds me of a descriptive phrase I loved when reading about Patti in “Freedom” after Walter tells her she seemed “like a genuinely nice person!”

    “Patti knew, in her heart, that he was wrong in his impression of her. And the mistake she went on to make, the really big life mistake, was to go along with Walter’s version of her in spite of knowing that it wasn’t right. He seemed so certain of her goodness that eventually he wore her down.”

    A twist on playing to one’s audience. Thanks for the reference.

    • Franzen said, of his friend, at DFW’s memorial service: “And so now this handsome, brilliant, funny, kind Midwestern man with an amazing spouse and a great local support network and a great career and a great job at a great school with great students has taken his own life, and the rest of us are left behind to ask (to quote Infinite Jest), ‘So yo then, man, what’s your story?’”

  2. Like the scorpion…just his nature. Or the nature of his illness. Sad.

    Great quote. Thanks for sending.

  3. […] networks as having a hand in this. It makes it all that much easier. And I refer you to this post “My whole life I’ve been a fraud.”  that does tie into mine as well. We are losing ourselves as we try to promote ourselves. Maybe we […]

    • Thanks for linking my blog. Your post, Are We All Narcissists Now? is an interesting and insightful rant on a subject I’ve been thinking a great deal about lately–specifically, the impact of technology on thoughtful modern life. (That is, a life subject to a measure of examination.) As I’ve discussed elsewhere, technology might have the capacity to detract from an authentic life. (Heidegger said that authenticity is best linked to a non-technological lifestyle.) But it is the world we live in, and I personally am not going to give it up. Therein lies the challenge. Thanks for reading.

I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading.

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