Is our online identity our only identity?

Online Identity Image
Screenshot by Sinead Malady, 8 April 2017

As a ‘digital native’, I have been a part of the digital world for many years now, however I wouldn’t have considered myself an active participant. If you went onto any of my social media profiles you wouldn’t have gotten much of an insight into the life of Sinead Malady. I uploaded a photo every now and then but other than that I was pretty much invisible. However that’s not to say I didn’t use social media. I was constantly scrolling through other people’s profiles and staying up to date with all the online goings-on. Everyone online seemed to be having the time of their lives based upon their social media profiles, which were saturated in pictures of tropical holidays or status updates about how amazing their careers/family/friends are. I certainly didn’t think I had anything exciting enough going on in my own life worthy of posting onto any of my profiles. However, as a digital media student, I have been encouraged to become more of an active user of social media rather than remaining passive.

Claudia Grinnell would suggest that I am transitioning from a ‘consumer’ to a ‘produser’ (Grinnell, 2009). Grinnell states that the ‘produser’ is the amalgamation of a producer and a consumer, therefore someone who actively participates in not only the consumption of online information, but also the production of their own innovative content. This seems to be the trend among many users of social media and the Internet as a whole. More and more we are seeing people posting their whole lives online, leading to the question of whether or not our online identity is our only identity. It could be said that who we are is based on how others see us, and if so, the online world would be a good depiction of that. Our social media profiles aim to concentrate our lives into one page, but how accurately do they capture the ‘real us’?

Online platforms give us the ability to manufacture our identity and mould ourselves into anything at all. It gives us time that we wouldn’t otherwise have to think about what we want to say and who we want to be. The world doesn’t have to see all of us, just the parts that we want them to see. Hence, the online self can often be seen as contradictory to the actual self, which has both positive and negative consequences. The negative aspect of living a conflicting life through the online world is that you have the potential to become absorbed in it and use it as a means of escape. For example gamers can get so caught up in their virtual worlds, they end up completely disregarding reality and only living life through their avatar as a form of ‘active escapism’ (Kuo et al., 2016). It is an outlet for those who perhaps feel alone and misunderstood, as well as a barrier for experiencing real life. The same could be said for those who are so caught up in all their social media profiles that they no longer value interpersonal connections or experiences. For example, many of us will go to a concert and when our favourite songs come on we’ll get out our mobile phones and start filming, only to realise after that we didn’t really get to fully experience those songs ourselves. And we don’t film these concerts so that we can go back and watch them later, we film them so that we can post them onto our social media profiles in an effort to prove how good our life is compared to others. Therefore we can see that the importance of the online world often outweighs the importance of the actual world, potentially causing us to lose our humanity.

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Pros & Cons of Being Active Online‘ at Canva

Through my own experience, however, I have found the notion of the online identity to be very positive. The process of developing my ‘online voice’ and creating a number of new profiles has been an incredibly enlightening and educational experience. I have learnt the value in developing my online identity, not just for my own enjoyment, but also for the benefit of my professional development. With the advent of social media domination, organisations are often turning to the online world as a means of gaining information on job candidates (Guiseppi, 2016). Hence, it’s becoming more and more important to stand out online and have a voice. In our modern world, not everyone always wants to listen to your opinions, thoughts or feelings, but through online platforms such as WordPress we all have an outlet for sharing ourselves in a creative fashion. However, I wouldn’t describe the process as being easy. As previously stated, most of my life I have been invisible online so the transition from passive to active media user meant overcoming a lot of my own fears of online rejection. I had the belief that nobody would care about what I had to say and that I didn’t even have anything worth saying in the first place. I came to discover that becoming more involved in the online world encouraged me to develop my own opinions where before I had none, and share them with the world, which proved to be very empowering.

It would be almost impossible to condense every facet of ourselves into our social media profiles, hence we create a number of them in an attempt to categorise our identity into different contexts. For example, we might highlight our professional self on LinkedIn, our party self on Facebook, our intelligent self on Twitter and our arty self on Instagram. We generally aren’t going to post all the negative aspects of ourselves online, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We all have flaws, however we don’t often go around flaunting them to the world. We want to maintain the online façade that our lives are perfect even if they’re not.

So, is our online identity our only identity? No, but it tends to be the one that matters.

Social media
Social Media Mixed Icons – Banner (https://flic.kr/p/JFS53E) by Blogtrepreneur (CC BY 2.0)

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References:

Grinnell, C. K 2009, ‘From Consumer to Prosumer to Produser: Who Keeps Shifting My Paradigm? (We Do!)’, Public Culture, 21, 577-598.

Guiseppi, M. M. E. C. 2016, ‘Mind Your Online Reputation: The Personal Branding Social Proof Paradigm And Two Little-Known Ways To Master It’, Career Planning & Adult Development Journal, 32, 101-106.

Kuo, A., Lutz, R. J. & Hiler, J. L. 2016, ‘Brave new World of Warcraft: a conceptual framework for active escapism’, Journal of Consumer Marketing, 498.

 

 

My Broader ALC203-Related Online Activity

Since commencing the unit, I have made an effort to become more active on Twitter in particular, and aimed to Tweet a couple of times a week about my thoughts on each week’s unit content. For example after watching Fifteen Million Merits in Week 1, I tweeted about my ideas in relation to the episode. I then created my WordPress account in preparation for the first assignment and published 3 blogs, which reflected my opinions, thoughts and ideas in relation to the unit in an attempt to discover and refine my online identity.

Are we obsessed with our phones or am I crazy?

I recently did a research assignment for a Media Studies unit whereby I had to investigate whether or not the mobile phone is a big part of the life of a student… And, let’s be honest, we don’t really need a research assignment to figure that one out. YES!!! Of course it is a huge aspect of life, not only for a student, but also for most of the world. I don’t think I have encountered someone within the last 5 years at least who does not own a mobile device. The digital world is an enormous aspect of life and it seems we all have to get on board the revolution or risk getting left behind.

As a ‘digital native’ myself, I have pretty much grown up with technology. Actually technology and I have really grown up together. The mobile phone has adapted from being a simple yet efficient means of communication, through texting and calling, into this ultra hybrid portable computer which is literally growing by the day with new innovative content. And I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that the days of technology and I growing and learning together are certainly behind me. I can hardly keep up. And to be honest I’m not sure if I want to.

The participant observation that I conducted as part of this assignment led me to discover that 62 out of the 100 individuals that walked past me were using their mobile devices in some way, shape or form. And I don’t know why that surprised me but it really did! We are so absorbed with what is going on inside our devices that we cant even leave them in our bags as we walk between classes. I don’t even think people realise that they are doing it anymore, it seems like a subconscious action or matter or habit that could be akin to breathing.

I’m not trying to slam people who use their phones often. I’m one of them. But when I was looking at everyone walk by me on their phones, completely clueless as to the goings-on around them, it kind of made me see the phone as a sort of barrier to the real world. It happens so often when I’m out for coffee with a friend who I haven’t seen in months and they’ll just be scrolling through Instagram while I attempted to make conversation with them. Or when you see someone you know across the street and you really can’t be bothered talking to them so you just pretend your on your phone to prevent having to actually interact with the real world. As much as the online world consists of real people, it isn’t quite the same as looking someone in the eye and connecting, which definitley isn’t something you can achieve with 140 characters or less.

That being said, it’s not all doom and gloom in the world of digital devices. As much as they can separate us, they also have the ability to bring us together and discover facets of one another we didn’t know existed. Take this blog for example… Tomorrow I’ll probably be scrolling through Instagram as I walk between classes at Uni, and all the while I’m writing blog posts about the worlds obsession with their mobile phones (total hypocrite)! I wouldn’t be able to express and share this without the freedom of the web and you probably wouldn’t think it would cross my mind otherwise. Not only that, but people are often using their phones to aid their conversations rather than prevent them, sharing photos and conversations that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to.

So to sum up this long and tedious post, as much as I am trying my very hardest to embrace every form or social media and all the positives that come along with them, I believe it is equally important and necessary to reflect on whether or not we value our social media profiles over our real human experiences. Just something to think about.