I-pad. i-phone. i-touch. i-game. With new technologies available at our fingertips an ‘i’ version of almost everything can be accessed, uploaded, downloaded, tweeted, bumped, digged and numerous other intelligent digital loading processes too progressive to even challenge my ‘so-called’ media savvy brain. Whilst these technologies are offering a remarkable service which is helping to strengthen and build online identities, the question we need to ask ourselves is; is this intelligence stealing the ‘I’ out of identity?
Generally when two individuals meet for the very first time they disclose information about one another such as name, age, profession and ethnicity. The divulged information is limited and controlled highlighting favoured elements of our personalities whilst censoring less attractive ones (which may tend to include the age part). By following this procedure we are able to mould and shape perspectives only releasing favoured information a step at a time also known as social penetration. A common analogy used by psychologists to demonstrate social penetration is the onion analogy.
The onion analogy is used to describe the multilayered nature of personality. When one peels the outer skin from an onion, another layer is exposed and when the second layer is removed, a third is revealed, and so forth.
Whilst the outer layer of personality contains the public self, which is accessible to all and takes little questioning to discover such as height and weight, the inner core holds more private information such as beliefs, self-concept, faith, prejudices, and deep emotions. We have complete control over how many layers we decide to remove and therefore how much of our personalities to reveal.
However, can we necessarily apply this theory to the technological age we currently live in?
Twitter, Face book, Linked In and Youtube are only a few of the many social media sites sweeping the globe into a revolutionary hurricane drawing in every Tom, Dick and Harry into the online conversation. Here we feel inclined to reveal more about ourselves without questioning who, where and when individuals are monitoring our online presence. The inner core of our online identities have somehow managed to shift away from the privatised personal space it once curled up into and has comfortably embraced an amplified, unfamiliar yet unanimous space more commonly known as cyber space.
Paul Moore states in ‘Learning and teaching in virtual worlds: Implications of virtual reality for education‘ that, ” internet interactions quite often simply mirror individuals offline identities, the only difference being that on the internet it all happens electronically, and very ,very fast.”
However some argue that self-identity in cyberspace can adopt different agendas and may not necessary reflect the truth.
Richard Coyne and Dorian Wiszniewski emphasise the concept of “masking” identity in their contribution to the book ‘Building Virtual Communities‘. They discuss how individuals portray a mask of their identities when interacting in a social sphere which in essence is no different online. In fact it may even fortify the need to mask critical factors of identity due to a series of questions presented concerning online presence.
Should we post photos of ourselves? If so which ones? Should we include our age and marital status? Should we make our profile private or public? Should we reveal our religious beliefs, sexuality and political groups?
More importantly do these decisions impact social interactivity? Does more information reflect transparency or exclusivity? Will it enhance online integration? Does the amount of information and what we share online dictate how receptive we are to online dialogue?
*The ideas expressed in this column are solely the opinions of the author and not necessarily of the Dialogue Society