Living in public, all the time. Creating and recreating our personas for the world to see, follow and fall in love with. This week’s Idea Mashup pairs two women with different perspectives on how our online identity have come to define us. One from within, and one from outside.
“Raymi the Minx” is the digital-alter-ego-blogging-persona of writer Lauren White, who, for over a decade, has been life-casting – blogging about the most intimate details of her life. This lengthy experience makes her something of a Patient Zero for studying the ways in which online life and real life can overlap or even merge.
Alice Marwick, on the other hand, is a researcher who studies people’s interactions with technology and the ways social media has come to permeate the lives of younger generations.
Both are well aware of the rapidly increasingly social value to online recognition. Marwick points out how amassing a large number of followers or fans has created a new sort of fame, or “cewebrity,” one based solely on the amount of online attention one can command.
This cultural – or at least generational – obsession with online recognition and compulsive sharing has publicized our lives to a never-before-seen degree. “Now there’s these online persistent spaces where parents, teachers and government people and law enforcement can see what’s going on,” says Marwick, discussing how what used to be schoolyard interactions are now visible online, “and I think sometimes that makes people uncomfortable, to see the raw realities of young people’s digital life.”
Of course, there’s a big difference between teenagers unwittingly leaving a paper trail of their lives and the conscious decision to craft a persona with the purpose of getting attention. “I’m constantly thinking about it, I dream about it, I have nightmares, I have anxiety,” says White. “I check my rank every day like stocks. It goes up and down…it’s ridiculous.”
Social media and mobile technology may have given us the ability to be constantly connected to friends, acquaintances, family (and, on occasion, acquaintances of friends of family), but it also teases the possibility of widespread attention and recognition.
But how does crafting an online identity affect our real lives?
“When you get into the virtual world, what ends up becoming the status is really about attention and visibility,” says Marwick. “It’s about how much attention you can command and how many people are listening to you.”
So the question is, do we end up making decisions in our real lives that will play well as part of an online identity? Does our online persona overlap with our real one, or are they distinct? Do they feed off of one another?
It’s a difficult question to answer, and with social media well-entrenched as part of the cultural fabric of young generations, it’s becoming increasingly important that we remain aware of the duality of our real and virtual lives, and ensuring that our well-being isn’t suffering just for a few additional retweets.