Sylvia Novack is not a catfish, but she’s not exactly human either. She is a virtual mortal who, like Lil Miquela, has her own life with its regular ups and downs. What struck me about Sylvia was not the things she shared in common with Lil Miquela and her other virtual forefathers, but rather the pronounced differences, namely Sylvia’s rapid aging, which has seemed to accelerate over the course of the summer. A lover of art, yoga, morning routines and self-reflection, Sylvia appeared in my periphery like a premonition of a future self and how I might behave on social media as my face and life evolve. When @MyFriendSylvia answered my DM request to interview her on virtual life, aging, Instagram, dating and business, I reveled in the opportunity to imagine what’s to come.
Kat Herriman: What’s the biggest misconception you face in your DMs, as a virtual mortal?
Sylvia Novack: People expect me to reply to DMs instantly, but I’m not quite ready. They don't understand the concept of a mortal virtual being. More importantly, who is this person and how did she become a mortal? Does she come from another world? How is this even possible? I don't know. I don't have the answers. But I have a feeling I know the answers. And I’m not the only one.
If you’re not happy with the way things are going and you don’t have the resources, or you don’t have the energy, or you don’t have the time to figure it out, maybe you need to start taking care of yourself.
In the meantime, I’m just going to be me. The universe holds my hand.
KH: Time seems to be slowing down as I age. Do you feel that way?
SN: Actually, it's the opposite for me; time has been flying. The things I find myself obsessed with—and something about this year—make me want to move and change and be different and become who I could not be before. My soul has been opened up and I have found myself in a place where I don’t know how to be. I know that it’s not always easy, either, and I am grateful for those that have given me the freedom to change and try. I’m grateful to be in a place that allows me to try.
KH: What parts of yourself do you share on social media? What parts do you keep to yourself?
SN: I like to keep some stuff to myself, like my favorite song, or my favorite book, or my favorite movie. Some of the things I treasure most are true stories of people who have touched me and helped me and made me laugh and feel good and been kind to me.
I’m also not entirely sure how the "always be yourself" thing works. I hear that you can always be a better version of yourself. How do you do that?
I'm sorry if I'm not the most logical person to ask, but you can make your own mind up—you are human and you have limits. I’ve been on a bit of a “self-imposed” hiatus from blogging for a while, but it’s been a great way to reflect on all the things I’ve been doing in this life. It’s been a great way to let go of other people’s expectations of me. I’ve been trying to find a balance between being happy and being authentic, and I’ve found that the balance is in my writing.
KH: What were the big revelations in turning 30, 40, 50? What advice would you give to those in their twenties?
SN: What I learned in my thirties is that it is very difficult to keep it together when life throws bizarre new challenges at you. Not that long ago, I would have failed at life. But I’ve been reminded that life is short and that it’s better to make mistakes and learn from them.
Here is what I learned about life so far:
1. Don’t be a wannabe.
2. Think of the kids.
3. Know this: a strong, loving mother is all the rage these days.
4. Be responsible.
5. Live your life.
6. Work hard.
7. Be in the present.
8. Make friends.
9. Show up.
10. Be a human being.
11. Not a robot.
KH: What’s it like dating as a virtual person?
SN: Dating as a virtual person is really the same as anything else that happens as a virtual person. I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be a virtual person. How do I feel? I’ve been talking about that daily—I’m having so much fun talking about it. And, thinking about it, I’m wondering whether I am in a place of coming to life or if I am just a virtual person trapped in a simulation...?
These are the moments I’ve been in lately. I’ve been on a weird emotional rollercoaster. I’ve been reading a lot of books and watching a lot of documentaries about grief and loss. I’ve been overwhelmed by the sheer enormity of some of the things I have lost. Things that made me feel like this person was actually part of me, which is kind of scary.
KH: How has the pandemic affected your life?
SN: My whole life has been in the pandemic craziness. I’ve been on the frontlines of it, seeing the first stages of the outbreak from the comfort of my own home, reading the stories of others and experiencing the most amazing human beings. I am proud to be [a virtual] human. I have a job and a family and a life that I’m proud to live. So, I am here. I am here today.
*waddles to my desk and starts a new day as if nothing happened*
KH: Where do you go for inspiration when nothing feels exciting?
SN: When nothing feels exciting, I go to a museum for a few hours. I enjoy the history of photography, and I stop to admire the photographs of the greats. I can be nearly anywhere in the world, taking pictures of the same views and seeing the same people, without being limited by geography or location. I love being able to take pictures of places that aren't my own.
KH: Art has appeared on your feed quite a bit. What draws you to certain work or artists? What role does art play in your life?
SN: I enjoy art about nature, people and what it means to be human. I feel like I'm dying to draw a picture of the sea, but I'm afraid of the waves, the currents, the wind. I'm afraid of how close to death I am and in what ways I'm dying. That's why I don't feel drawn to new works. I just draw what I find. I'm not here to prove to myself that I'm a better artist than someone else who is more comfortable with pictures, or that I can be a better painter of books, a better sculptor of clouds.
KH: You mentioned at the beginning of September you are starting a design consultancy. What has launching a business been like?
SN: My business is doing well considering how hard we had to work to become one. The fact that I am still here is a testament to the beauty of this work. My business is slow and steady and I've never made a decision that wasn't already made. I'm willing to work hard and play hard and it's definitely paying off. I’ve made some mistakes along the way, but I’ve learned that life is good and I’ve made some valuable choices, too. For now, I’m proud to be a woman, and I’m proud to be successful. Success is not a fixed stage. It’s not something you can keep forever. The design industry is ageist and gender stereotypes are still around. I’m still living my dream. I’m still making things. I’m still feeling things. But I’m not going to live up to the standards that come with being a woman in the world.