Are We Living a Split Life?

The way social media impacts our online identities is something I reflect upon regularly, but the course readings and videos from this week really struck me. It is hard to believe the impact that social media has on our reality. And the reality of it is, young Canadians are growing up in a wired world.

Young Canadiana Life Online

Graphic via Media Smarts retreived from: http://mediasmarts.ca/ycww

It is hard to believe how much of our online presence is impacted by an algorithm which shapes the content we are shown. Sites such as Facebook are experts at this, deciding which posts we should see through a mathematical equitation. This is something that really grinds my gears as only became aware of this algorithm after reading “Facebook – Our ffriendly automated identity bender” by Jason Miller.  I had a feeling Facebook somehow was differentiating what I should see due to the content of my News Feed, but I was unaware of the invisible criteria. Miller’s post lead me to a post by Danah Boyd regarding what the Facebook experiment teaches us. It is hard to believe that Facebook chooses who we should see and interact with (just so we will come back again… and again). Furthermore, does what we see have a greater impact than just coming back? Does it affect us emotionally?

Facebook created a mood manipulation experiment to find that exact question out. Is Facebook slowly changing the way we see the world through this invisible power?

“Because so many people, rightly or wrongly, use the platform as their primary communication medium, Facebook’s news item filtering algorithms can have a direct impact on what kind of person your ffriends think you are.” – Jason Millar

But this isn’t only Facebook’s problem. The way social media impacts our identity is prevalent on all social media sites. Additionally our identity is shaped in what we choose to post and how we choose to perceive others posts. In the case of Madison Holleran, her life seemed to be ideal, by what she was posting on Instagram, but what was missing was the parts of her life you can’t see… the hardships, struggles, and depression.  The hashtag campaign #LifeUnfiltered opens the conversation of how much we filter our real self on social. Our identities are often projecting a spilt image, depicting to your social network, the person you want them to see. Are we masking depression online? Why do we feel the need to compare ourselves to others online?

So I leave you with this question: Are our lives really an augmented reality? Do we really experience digital dualism? Or are we living a split life between online and offline, presenting the “person we want to be” in our online identities?

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Our Mediated Online Identities

Social media has allowed us to make connections with family, friends, and online communities like never before. Many people find extreme comfort and life-long connections with people they have met online. People are able to make connections with others far away, join chat rooms or forums for support, and reach a greater audience. This is impacting our online identities and offline relationships.

This is impacting our identities and there is a shift from having two identities (online and offline) to one augmented reality. Our public life is being shared through various SMSs to represent the person we want to be. This an referred to as an ambient intimacy. An ambient intimacy argues that even though we are sharing snippets of our lives, all the snippets add up to create a bigger picture. I agree partially with this idea as I enjoy seeing small updates of my family members who are too far to communicate with on a regular basis. But I also have a critical eye when viewing these shared moments.  

The main challenge I see with sharing our online identities is how mediated they are. People (myself included) tend to share only the “perfect” pictures or “highlight” moments. I know I am guilty of untagging myself in a picture where I don’t like the way I look… or taking a photo MANY times before posting it online… or recording a video many times before posting…. AND I am sure you are guilty too.

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So why is this a challenge? Although I see our augmented reality and ambient intimacy as a positive as it is allowing us to connect with others, I often think it is warping our sense of reality. What is real? Body image was a huge topic of discussion when I was growing up and how models were portrayed on magazines and in movies. I feel like now everyone is able to access filters, Photoshop, lightning, etc. to achieve a flawless photo. I can see this being an issue with vulnerable youth who are trying to achieve something that is enhanced.