Has your identity changed over the years?

Identity. What is identity? Who defines your identity? Can your identity change or once it is formed does it follow you forever?

Merriam-Webster defines identity as

: who someone is : the name of a person

: the qualities, beliefs, etc., that make a particular person or group different from others

Your online identity is described on Wikipedia as

: Internet identity (also called IID), or internet persona is a social identity that an Internet user establishes in online communities and websites. It can also be considered as an actively constructed presentation of oneself.

In the past, people used to feel shielded behind the screen and viewed their online presence as an anonymous presence, being able to be anyone or thing they wanted to be. However, this is changing as we are becoming digital residents, leaving pieces of ourselves online each time we sign on and giving personal information to websites as digital identifiers.

Photo Credit: Steve Ramsthel via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Steve Ramsthel via Compfight cc

Additionally, even though we may seem anonymous in our presentation online, we are posting putting ourselves out there into a world that never forgets. As we are posting into this vast online world, we are vulnerable to a variety of interpretations. Wesch describes this as a context collapse.

“The images, actions, and words captured by the lens at any moment can be transported to anywhere on the planet and preserved (the performer must assume) for all time.” – Michael Wesch, July 23, 2008.

As well as images, actions, and words being captured and transported anywhere and preserved, they are also open to many different understandings. This is something I have struggled with in this course and posting my reflections online for many to see, keep, and interpret. I don’t consider myself a very skilled writer, so putting my thoughts into words and posting them for others to read is something I struggle with. I also tried my first vlog in this course and it took me many attempts to get the video I thought was “acceptable” to post.

So why do I struggle with putting myself out there in the online world, when I find myself to be quite the people person in the face-to-face setting? Perhaps it is because I am creating an online identity in a world that is less forgiving and doesn’t forget.

Jeffrey Rosen, explains this phenomena in is article on “The Web Means the End of Forgetting.” In his article he gives many examples of people who lost jobs, were denied privileges, and essentially publically shamed because of something that was posted online. Additionally, companies are doing their research on potential employees by conducting online searches of people. Have we lost our ability for a second chance?

When I think back to my adolescence and some of the ridiculous, yet harmless, things my sister and I would do in our spare time and imagine if these were shared online, it makes me cringe. My already hard adolescence years would have been caught for others to judge and share, without the context I shared with my sister. Then to think of the mistakes that were made during my teenage years, which have long been forgotten.

Rosen explains that we are now experiencing a “collective identity crisis.” We used to be able to shape our identity dependent on the different role you were in (at home, at work, at sports, etc); however, the idea of an augmented reality and digital dualism is changing this ability, since all our identities are intertwined.

Photo Credit: smartwayblog via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: smartwayblog via Compfight cc

So how do we defend our online identities? How do we teach youth to be forward thinking and present an acceptable identity for when they “grow up”? How do we create a community of forgiveness and empathy in the online world? How can we stress the importance of “owning” your digital footprint?

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