Sherri Winans
Whatcom Community College
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Ashley Marshall
Sherri Winans
English 201
December 2002

Perfect Image

BEEEEEEEEEEEEP!!! My modem spits out a high pitched sound as it finishes connecting. I'm not fully technologically updated yet, I don't have cable or DSL connections. That's all right, my good ol' 56k does the job just fine. The smooth embossed lines on my desktop illuminate my face with soft blue hues as I turn my attention back to my monitor. I scan over my memos to myself on my "Stickies." Stickies are virtual Post-It notes. I can delete a few things from my to-do list. I then bring my inbox to view and check my mail. Junk, junk, coach, ah college coach, junk, oh nice, email from one of my friends... not too much. I organize the mail efficiently. Clicking around and dragging, only my finger is doing the work. If only my room could be cleaned by a click, drag and drop process. If only I could take my organization from my computer and download it into my life. I need that perfectly pixelized image of me through my computer to be copied over into my life. Or do I.

I grew up attached to technology. It was the "future" developing in my generation, and I loved it. As soon as I learned how to use a computer, it took a lot to drag me away from it. I could usually be found at recess in the classroom, on one of the computers, playing educational games or typing away at some intriguing new idea I had for a story. I grew older and was introduced the world wide web. This is what gave me the opportunity to be a person that I had always wanted to be. Not consciously thinking this, I learned how to cover up and hide anything that appeared to me as a mistake. My computer endeavors started when I was 8 years old, in third grade, when I first used a computer.

In the third grade, our class would spend two days a week in the computer lab. This lab was filled with noisy, aging yellow tinted gray computers that took up more room than any advanced computer today. As students we learned our computer skills, as well as educational skills. Number Munchers and Oregon Trail were excitedly played on the computers, their monitors boasting brilliant green words and graphics on a black screen within two dimensional parameters. I looked forward to computer lab days. There was something about those machines that drew me in. Something that was starting to give me a way to express myself a little differently.

When I was in fourth grade, my dad brought home a computer. It was an older, used Macintosh, but it had color! Number Munchers and Oregon Trail suddenly became ten times better. Both in color with better quality graphics and much faster processing speed, I couldn't even understand those green and black screened crap machines anymore. In my fourth/fifth grade classes the computers were updated and I spent countless hours playing educational games on both our computer at home and the ones at school. When my parents bought Kid Pix for us I was ecstatic. That program had not just painting, drawing and coloring capabilities; it could talk and blow things up! Technology was advancing quickly and I was excited to keep up with it; to advance myself.

Soon enough in fifth grade, my dad bought a computer for him to use at home. I would watch my dad on his computer sometimes and it was so much faster than our other computer! It had better graphics too. I remember doing a report on the state of California, and I designed my map on my dad's computer. It was the first time I had used Freehand (a design layout program) and the map was truly a work of art. I brought in an excellent report, accompanied with a high-tech map. The students in my class were stunned, because they had all hand-drawn theirs like most kids do, and the teacher gave me extra credit on mine. It made me feel wonderful, because I suddenly felt perfect. I created a perfect piece of work.

Eventually my dad got another new computer and I was able to use that one. I was on that computer just like most kids watch TV. Not long after my dad bought two new computers and I was able to have my very own PowerMac, and discover the internet for the first time.

People talk about the internet like it is a virtual reality. Virtual means something is not real; it is not in a tangible form. Email and the internet are virtual realities, because they exist in this enormous intangible realm so fondly known as "cyberspace." Within this cyberspace it seems like an actual world. There is so much one can do. Listening to music, shopping, conducting research, chatting with friends--the possibilities seem to be endless. I have discovered a lot since I have been "connected."

At first when I entered this virtual world, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could be perfect like I'd always wanted. Mistakes can be covered up, deleted and erased! Whenever I chatted with someone, or emailed someone, I could erase and delete any mistakes that I made. Also, when I was online, I could change personalities. These personalities that I used were fine-tuned so much that I appeared to be the most perfect, put together person. I could create multiple profiles on several different databases, such as Yahoo or Hotmail. Resulting from this, people that I chatted with admired me. It made me feel good. It was almost as if I developed this talent for acting, I became so good at pretending to be people I wasn’t.

Being a perfectionist, I am very aware of things I am doing, to make sure I don't make any mistakes. When I design something for a client, using Adobe Photoshop 7 with its 3D components and millions of colors and pixels, I need to create something that is perfect. There can be no mistakes. I go through the process of trying a million different ideas, layering and relayering each piece of the design and adjusting until I see it as perfect. I go through every little pixel on the "canvas" and make sure each one is how I want it. Photoshop helps me create a perfect image, which I then give to my client. The client usually doesn't have any idea what is behind the perfect image I hand them; they can’t see the all of the erasing and layering.

Mistakes are a way to learn, of course, but to me they are huge, bright neon signs blinking to the world that I am not perfect. I know I am not perfect, but it can be hard at times to accept that. When I go online I can present myself however I wish to. Ever since I was a freshman in high school and have been able to experience being 'connected,' I've learned how to be myself and also to change my identity. I've learned how to project myself as an image of perfection, hiding whatever I view as not perfect, but have also learned that taking things away from my true image doesn't make me Ashley Marshall.

I had my senior pictures done in August, and I remember how long it took me to get ready for them. I also remember messing with this huge ugly zit on my forehead. It was one of those zits that cannot be covered up no matter what is done to it. So I did the best I could, made sure everything else looked perfect and had the pictures taken. When I got my pictures back, I was surprised to see that my zit had disappeared (wish I could actually do that), my skin was flawless (poreless too), and my hands and feet weren't red like they normally are. I was happy that all of that photo editing made me look perfect, but I was also angry that what had been originally me had been manipulated and airbrushed just like girls in magazines. For the first time in my life, I had a hard time looking at myself, perfect, like I had always dreamed of looking.

I do not think anyone really notices my flaws, because they all have their own. I could begin to express myself. This produced great results, because I am so shy when it comes to face-to-face conversation and phone calls (depending on the person), so when I was online it was less of an uncomfortable situation to communicate with people. I loved it. Trying to stay myself, I developed my online voice to sound exactly like I would sound if I were in person.

For instance, when I email a college admissions advisor or a college track coach, I don't have to worry about saying the wrong thing, nervously playing with my hair or turning red. I can say exactly what I want to say, have time to look over it and make sure everything looks good. I can express my concerns or opinions exactly like I would in person, but without all of the extra "ums, uhs and likes."

Throughout my high school years I have struggled with the idea of perfection, online and in real life. It is now that I realize I cannot be perfect no matter what I do. And I am able to accept this. Now when I am online I try to not concern myself with every little mistake, and so my grammar isn’t perfect sometimes, who cares. It’s hard to change the fact that I am a perfectionist, but I want to show everyone who I am, who Ashley is. The Ashley that God created. The only thing perfect about me, is God and His amazing love. This is the real, defined image that I will try to project to the world. No layering or erasing to it this time.


Copyright 2002
Ashley Marshall


Funded through the U.S. Dept. of Education, Title III Grant PO31A980143
Sherri Winans, Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA