Monday, March 8, 2010

Real-Life and Online Identities

It is amazing to think that twenty years ago, this thing we have come to know as the Internet, did not exist. Society was able to function without email, network servers, smart phones, social networking tools, etc. People were able to develop and maintain their personal identities mainly through face to face interactions and telephone conversations. Today, individuals, and businesses alike, have become so dependent upon the Internet that if it suddenly ceased to exist, mass pandemonium would certainly ensue. People now utilize the Internet to develop real-life and online personal identities that can either be cultivated to thrive independently of each other or coerced to become completely intertwined. Those who actively utilize the Internet and all of its fabulous affordances for both personal and professional affairs have an even more entangled identity.

Do these complex identities affect our perception of ourselves and others? I think this answer depends on the people involved. The perception I have of myself has been the driving force behind the creation of my real-life and online identities. Thanks to my intertwined identities, my self-perception does not change whether I'm dealing with people online or in person. However, the parts of my identity that I choose to reveal may change in regard to the medium being utilized. When I'm interacting with close friends and family in person or through Facebook and MySpace, I tend to be more of an extrovert. I take chances and openly express my opinions for my relationships with friends and family, whether fostered online, in person, or both, are more intimate and less threatening. Yet, when interacting with colleagues, during faculty meetings or through emails, and online classmates at UF, strictly through online interaction, I am more of an introvert. I take more precautions before expressing myself and constantly edit and re-edit items that will be published for public viewing. I do not want to give off the wrong impression about my beliefs, thoughts, values, etc. just because an email gave off the wrong "tone of voice" or I failed to fully develop an idea in an online discussion post.

This same concept seems to apply when it comes to my perception of others as well. For example, when meeting someone for the first time face to face I may take awhile to warm up. A few questions may be asked, and I might offer up some information about myself, but I take a guarded approach. This lasts until I feel more comfortable with the person and they have moved from being an acquaintance to a friend. The same is true when meeting new people online, such as my UF classmates. As mentioned above, I tend to be more introverted until a friendship has been established and I can then let my guard down and begin to take more risks as I would with family and close friends. Additionally, I sometimes base my perception of the people I meet online by their writing and quality of their work, because that may be all that is available. However, this may be the cause of my fear of and reluctance to publish online. I know how much another person's work influences my perception of them, therefore it is my assumption that they would look to my works as an influence on their perception of me.

Real-life and online identities can continue to develop and weave themselves together as technologies change and become more advanced. I have made it a personal challenge to allow my intertwined identity to continue to evolve as well.