I’ve always had a fascination with new places. Almost to a fault. If I have a chance to go somewhere new and I end up somewhere familiar, truthfully it feels like a wasted opportunity. So every chance I get I try to find myself somewhere new. No friends, no family. Just me and my new place.
I wasn’t too aware of this hobby until recently, but just like someone enjoys playing soccer or watching movies, it’s not something you really question.
“New places” is not to be mistaken with traveling. Traveling is immersing yourself in a new culture, a new world, exploring a new reality. New places is a simpler, more habitual, form of traveling.
They’re places where you can escape your day to day identity. Imagine a “staycation,” without the vacation. It could be a new town, restaurant, cafe, park, beach and so on. Local or semi-local. You don’t need to hop on a plane for this one. Hop in the car. Simple.
Why the fascination?
The world is in a tough spot, seemingly falling apart, and it’s causing all of us to escape to a digital world that’s designed to occupy as much of our minds as possible.
These platforms manipulate our basic needs for attention, friendship, and community, essentially forcing us to quickly and awkwardly “build” our identities. They drive us to choose what we believe is truth, what “side” we’re on, what we like, feel, desire, fear, and quite literally who we are at an earlier and earlier age. 10 years old for some. Our personal brands start the second we get an IG, a Twitter, or a TikTok. And just like with any brand, your personal brand requires you to hone in on your voice, your niche, to find what about you will make your audience care. This requires, at the most fundamental level, choices.
You choose what to watch, you choose what to post, you choose who to follow. These platforms rewards these choices. You get likes, you get followers, you get better distractions, you find friends, you find community. But there’s no free will in this particular game. You’re taught specific choices are better than others. Choices other people have made teach you what resonates and what doesn’t - you observe, consume, create, learn, and act accordingly to cater to an audience.
In simpler terms, we admire what’s popular, we make choices based off what’s popular, and those choices are cemented into our being with the rewards we receive.
Imagine, you walk into a shop wearing a blue pair of shorts and you get compliments and looks from everyone. No chance you’re wearing your yellow shorts next time you go out. You’re the Blue Shorts guy now. You have developed a “cosmetic trait” that you don’t want to change. A fixed trait.
Now imagine developing your personality traits the same way you became Blue Shorts guy - letting your “outside” world dictate your “inside” world. That’s exactly what happens on mainstream social platforms. Young people are developing fixed traits, fixed personalities. If we get consistently rewarded for behaving, thinking, or talking like X, why try Y? Choose to step outside of the boundaries of this fixed identity you’ve built (or that’s been built for you) and, well, you’ve put your reputation and foundation at risk. Maybe the most important thing for a teen.
The issue is personality is not fixed, and in order to experience healthy growth as an individual you need to be willing to break your shell.
We’ve all dealt with this dichotomy of fixed vs. fluid personality, but it’s been historically restricted to certain “eras” of life. Elementary, High school, College. Class clown, nerd, dancer, band, pothead, player, jock. Usually your identity is fixed then, but as soon as that era is over, you have an opportunity for growth and change. An opportunity to hit the lab again and experiment with yourself.
Not as much anymore. Want a change? What have you been posting on social media the last 10 years? Good luck trying to change that. The issue is not that people wouldn’t accept a new side of you, the issue more so lies within you. It takes courage to explore and express new aspects of yourself, at the risk of no reward, especially when your reputation online (which = offline) has revolved around a single personality built by dopamine. This is why artists have such a hard time expanding beyond the one song, the one genre, that made them popular.
Anyways, I like to explore new places because it reminds me that my foundation is not rooted in these seemingly fixed personality traits of mine. A fresh environment breaks me out of cyclical thought. I feel comfortable in a cafe down the street where I always get the same meal. I feel slightly uncomfortable sitting at a restaurant by myself an hour outside of town. In a familiar place, with familiar people, the ego says you can’t explore your identity too much beyond what people have come to expect. In an unfamiliar place with no social ties, you can experiment with new personality traits and thoughts. Even if it’s as simple as saying “hi” in a totally new and weird way.
So by simply going somewhere new, I remind myself that I do have the freedom to “try out” new personalities (even if I don’t act on it). That feeling is enough to remind me I’m not a product person, I’m not a runner, I’m not a reader, I’m not an introvert, I’m not an extrovert, I’m not who I’ve made myself out to be on Instagram. I just am. These are all different traits of mine and things I enjoy doing, but as soon as I catch myself becoming too immersed in any one of them, it leads to a trap. You want to play the game, not get lost in it.
Identity is not fixed, and shouldn’t be fixed. Identity is fluid. As you age, you discover passions, learn from mistakes, hear different opinions, experience tragedy and triumph, and any of these things can greatly impact who you are. Sometimes even a single moment can change everything. Thus, being tied down to someone you were 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 years ago is not allowing growth. And I think it’s important for everyone to have a lever they can pull to remind themselves it’s OK to experiment with a new identity and grow out of an old one. Change and experimentation is the essence of life. No one stays the same forever, let alone 6 months.
I want to keep these writings somewhat short but this is a precursor to what’s coming next: how this idea of identity experimentation/play should and could be built into the next wave of social, as well as what platforms already have some elements of it (i.e. TikTok). The youth need digital reminders, like new places are physical reminders for me, that their identity is not set in stone. “Shell-breaking social,” as I call it (jokes), could be social platforms designed around rewarding a user’s fluidity, teaching them in the process that you’re not tied down to a single identity, a single shell, you may have accidentally found yourself in.