Earlier this week, I read an article from Neal Perkins, Identity is Prismatic, a truly fascincating interpretation of the relationship between not only online and offline identities, but whether or not we are being limited to a singular, almost pre-defined identity. Neil talks about Chris Poole’s opinion that online sites like Facebook with their timeline are aiming to lock our identities in place and are making less and less room for deviation. Like Neil, I could not disagree more.
We are not limited to have one, singular, end-all-be-all identity online just like we are not limited to having a single offline identity. We have far more nuance than that type of thinking allows for. We adapt our identities based on the context, the role, the environment and the meanings we attach to them.
To try and explain what I mean, here are some examples. I am a daughter and I am a sister. I see these as two separate, albeit similar identities within the holistic self, which have varied traits and behaviors as well identical traits and behaviors (afterall, they’re both me). In the online context, I am @aaretz on Twitter and Anne Aretz on Facebook; I see them as separate versions of my holistic self with managed traits, behaviors, using selective traits, behaviors that derive a different meaning in that context.
I think that we are dealing with contextual identities; our representations and interpretations of ourselves change depending on where they are or how they are labeled according to ourselves. I do not think that it is necessarily a conscious thing, at least most of the time. When it comes to some online identities, I purposefully am very selective of how much people know about me (i.e. Facebook) and other places, not so much (like Twitter). In the digital context, I think that we create identities; we’re selective about how we present ourselves and how we hope to be perceived. These are not fake, inaccurate identities, merely shining different lights on ourselves to create a different result or outcome.