Photo courtesy of Google Images
Online Identity Solely as a Construction
As technology continues to evolve and the internet begins to invade our everyday lives, the dilemma we face is how to define ourselves through this medium. New ways of technology evoke an evolving process in which someone may have multiple identities. “People take on different identities throughout their lives and find new ways to represent themselves to the world” (Thurlow, Lengel, Tomic, p.97). The ways we find jobs, fall in love, and even go to school have all been affected by the evolution of the internet. These changes can be efficient and innovative; similar and different from face to face interactions. Just like a person who is going on a first date, a person who is finding love online must decide how they are going to define themselves and what perception they are going to try to give to the other person. Whether it is in person or over the internet, identity is a construction. A person is capable of deciding how they will present themselves and use interaction by others to gauge worth and identity.
Constructing and Managing Identity
One of the key factors in constructing an online persona is identity play. Identity play is defined as “pretending to be someone else or just portraying different aspects of yourself” (Thurlow, p.100). This aspect of identity construction is an attempt to create an impression of who you are based on aspects that you have decided are important. After creating the identity, impression management becomes critical. Impression management suggests that users rely on “on time tags and emoticons in order to create the right impression or to get a favorable impression of other people” (Thurlow, p.52). This stage is when we begin to rely on others to measure the impact of our online identity. Our perception of our online self is gauged by the reaction of others. When a person posts a photograph on Facebook, they often judge their appearance by the number of “likes” that photo gets. This begins to blur the line between the social self and the personal self. People can find themselves measuring their personal self worth based on the worth that others give to their social self. Thurlow and company describe this as identity construction; “Identity is something we put together with the help of others… In other words our sense of ‘I’ is put together in relationship with other people” (p.96)
Daniel Chandler (1998) defines this effect on self perception like this: “these technologies of the self allow us not only to think about our identity and to transform the way we think of ourselves, but also to change ourselves to who we want to be. In fact, the internet is unique in the history of communication technologies because it offers ordinary people the potential to communicate with vast numbers in a way that before was possible only for the very wealthy and very powerful.” (Thurlow,98). The expansion of technology not only allows us to create varying identities, it also changes how we value these identities and how we use them to manipulate perception.
Redefining how we are Identified
Prior to major technological advancements like the internet, identity was defined through far less complex markers.
“Previously, most people lived in communities more strictly defined along national, ethnic, religious, and class lines. Consequently, identity didn’t seem like such an issue and people took their identities for granted on the basis of nationality, gender, religion, occupation, and so on… More recently, however, most of us are lucky enough to live in much more exciting, multi –ethnic, international environments.” (Thurlow, 98).
The invention of an online presence opened the door for disembodiment. Disembodiment is defined by Thurlow as “An identity which was no longer dependent on, or constrained by, your physical appearance” (p. 99). This created an opportunity for identity to be measured without the knowledge of gender, occupation, nationality, or ethnicity. This also aided in a post-cultural identity in which
“A technologically enabled postmulitcultural vision of identity disengaged from gender, ethnicity, and other problematic constructions. On line, users can float free of biological and sociocultural constructions, at least to the degree that their idiosyncratic language usage does not mark them as white, black, college-educated, and high school dropout and so on.” (Thurlow, p. 99)
The release of physical constraints has allowed more freedom to construct an online identity that incorporates a variety of possibilities and endless chances to relate to a desired culture.
All in all, online identity is constructed in some of the same ways that a face to face construction is created. The primary difference lies in the guaranteed aspects of a person such as appearance, gender, nationality, ethnicity etc. In a culture that is pre-technological advancement, the components listed above were primary identity markers. Now that our society is in a technological whirlwind, identity is what you make it. As Sherry Turkle states, “You can be whoever you want to be. You can completely redefine yourself if you want. You don’t have to worry about the slots other people put you in as much. They don’t look at your body and make assumptions. They don’t hear your accent and make assumption. All they see are your words” (Turkle, 1995: 184). All identity is a construction, but internet identity is almost completely a construction of who a person wants to be, is, or wishes they could be.
Chandler, D. (1998). Personal home pages and the construction of identities on the web. Available (11 April 2003) online: <http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Documents/short/webident.html>
Turkle, S. Life on the screen: Identity in the age of the internet. New York: Touchstone.
Thurlow, C., Lengel, L., Tomic, A. Computer mediated communication: Social interaction and the internet. London: Sage Publications