Are you the same person online as you are, offline? Is it true that we can be anyone we want to be, online? rdigitaLife explores identity in the age of avatars and digital alter egos.
As we spend more and more time connected to our digital devices, we now live in two worlds, living digital double lives.
MIT professor, social scientist and author Sherry Turkle sees that phenomenon as an extension of theories shaped decades ago. “Winston Churchill says, ‘We build our buildings and then our buildings make and shape us.’ He was very close to Marshall McLuhan, who said, ‘we create our media, and then, in turn, our media makes and shapes us.’ Well, we’re building our cell phones and our cell phones are making and shaping us.”
The Internet gives us the ability to craft our ideal personae, but to what extent can we control who we are online, and to what extent are we bound by who we are in the real world?
Sonia Arrison, author of 100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith, believes that persona will still be bound to who we are in real life. “Inherently, we want to be more like ourselves,” she says. “We want to be healthier, we want to be better versions of who we actually are.”
If we’re living in public all the time, and having our thoughts and actions archived for eternity, then are we really free to be ourselves online? Or are we constantly performing, constantly being watched and plotting our actions like updates in a strategy game?
Toronto-based blogger Lauren White has crafted an online persona for over a decade, calling herself “Raymi the Minx.” Her obsessive cataloguing of her life and daily dishing about whatever it is she’s been up to has actually become her life. “No one will know about you unless you’re online, unless you put it up there,” she says. “I’m constantly thinking about it, I’m dreaming about it, I have nightmares, I have anxiety, I check my rank every day like stocks.”
Web strategist Jesse Hirsh, co-founder of the Academy of the Impossible, says that the democratization of communication allows anyone to pursue celebrity. “Not only can anyone get their 15 minutes of fame, well they can get 15 seconds of fame every single day if they really wanted it. Because the ability to get attention is available to anyone,” he says.
From social media statuses to avatars, we connect, communicate, and create parallel selves living parallel lives.
According to White, “People think they lose control by putting stuff online, but you actually have control.”
Patchen Barss, author of The Erotic Engine: How Pornography has Powered Mass Communication, from Gutenberg to Google, says that no matter how much shaping you attempt, or how much control you exert, your online persona will ultimately still be something close to a true version of who you are. “It seems as though you go online and you can construct any identity you want,” he says, “but what seems to happen for a lot of people is that who they are prevails and almost gets distilled down to some kind of intense essence of who they are.”
How does this split impact our sense of self, our identities? What version of you is most true?