Tuesday, August 12, 2008

on the concept of Identity - (part 2)

...as opposed to persona

The important role of identity in the social network space seems obvious and unquestionable. Who we are, who others perceive us to be, how we want others to perceive us, how we want to perceive ourselves. There is a hinge, it seems, on the role of perception. And a spectrum of truth against which that perception is focused. Much has been written about online identities. Most eloquently might be Diana Kimball's take on it:
We build up our personal online identities, in large part, through the detritus we automatically leave behind: pictures we wanted others to see, articles we wanted others to read. Online identity is a very weird idea. It hinges on faith in honesty: if identity implies authenticity, then the information that helps to construct it cannot be false. But online identities are definitely constructed in other ways. They constitute the internet’s built environment: the structures we can see and study, and whose construction we can interrogate for meaning and consequence. These structures are in some ways completely under the owner’s control, and in others complete out of it.
There is a lot to take in here. I encourage you to re-read the quote.

The first part observes that it is our leave-behinds that define who we are. The moments of "check this out" or "some pics I found". It leaves me to wonder if we actively construct our online selves, or if identity is a by-product of engagement. Before responding to that, we must decide if we either buy into the idea that a person's first engagement in the digital social space is done purposefully or casually. Do people enter onto (let's say) facebook in a state of apathy, daring the online world to show them what's out there, or is there some intention around joining/signing up? If the latter is true, which I presume it is - at least for those who stick with whatever platform they've chosen, we have to believe that with intention comes awareness. And within awareness we find identity.

It is this awareness that leads to Ms. Kimball's last sentence:
These structures are in some ways completely under the owner’s control, and in others complete out of it.
Our self-awareness leads directly to how we present ourselves. I surmise that many start off trying to play a persona that is carefully constructed. Online, anything is possible. It's the neoclassic image of a person using false representations of themselves to appear more attractive on that great bastion of truth, the online dating site. Because somewhere in our minds, in our egos, perhaps in our most frustrated and desperate selves, we believe that the internet will allow us, will afford us the opportunity to become better than we think of our current self-assessment. But the key element in the construction of a social identity is time.

I think we grow into our authenticity. I think time is the great seeker in the game of identity hide and seek. It will always find us. We might begin our venture into the social networking world with the idea that we will become someone or something we wish for ourselves. But the more time we spend online, the more messages we write, pictures we share, dialogs we have, comments we make, the greater the chance that our true selves take over where the guise of a persona falters. The more we become certain of ourselves as individuals, the easier it becomes to maintain consistency of character. Or the more of our true feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and opinions become revealed to the communities we enter.

So where does that leave us? Have I talked in circles here? I often do. It's part of what makes me Me. I think the final thought on identity at this point is that identity is not something we construct. It is something that emerges organically the more time we spend engaging in social spheres, be they digital or analog.

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the thoughts and opinions expressed below are entirely my own, and are not necessarily shared by my friends, family, or employer. (though they very well might be...)