One of the superior factor of Internet is its ability to link things and people through an immensely large number of devices subscribed to the world wide web. In order for these nodes to be connected, online identity is mandatory. At the most effortless level, it is someone’s profile which contains most of the background info from age, gender, education to family, occupation. However, online identity not only refers the demographic information but also embraces the meaning of self, who you are as a person. The dynamics of any online conversations are lying within the understanding created among the speakers that go beyond the limited features of non-face-to-face interactions. Virtual identity helps users to convey their self in a clearer and more controllable manner. For many, the question is whether real identity is represented consistently in both online and offline worlds. It seems that the answer is no, thus, the arguments over online identity have been under heated debates without any signs of discontinuation.
The preferred self
Like most of the friends at my age, my roommate and I sometimes have some kinds of selfies, in which we always discuss how to choose the angles, the lighting and even the apps (Instagram or Camera360 to name a few) that we are going to use. So basically, we try to make sure that it’s gonna be a nice and beautiful photo for both of us (if you ask, I am not feeling embarrassed about it!). Similarly, I have seen quite a number of friends put a lot of efforts in taking selfies, deleted and retook if it was found disqualified until they satisfied with the final products. The ultimate purpose of this phenomenon is the showcase of one best self in every picture, which I guess may not be fulfilled in FtF interactions.
With the advent of technologies, users have the tendency to creating and maintaining an ideal or at least preferred self that would be hardly found in real life. Online activities like facebook-ing, tweet-ing, blogging, joining online forums or anything that you do online requiring a certain level of self-expression are integrated elements of identity building. Additionally, people can understand more about a person through these types of online non-verbal interactions. For me, unlike the offline world in which the non-verbal part is the body language, online non-verbal cues are coming from how you interact with people and what kinds of activities you are often do. To put it simply, liking a photo on Facebook is not merely a reactive action but a sign of approval that doesn’t require explicit explanation.
I am who I am
For many, Internet is the tool for creating a different identity cultivated from the desire to look good in the constant pursuit of social approval. For others, Internet is simply a the platform for them to be themselves. A friend of mine who has an Instagram account only allows certain people to have access to it despite her popularity that can be seen from her Facebook number of friends. There is a guy that I know having 2 Facebook accounts, one is for his parents, the other one is for his friends to reveal his homosexuality. Two of the cases that I have come across proved my beliefs in the impacts of SNSs on encouraging people to show who they are. Both are sharing their deepest thoughts, personal opinions, life events or true sexuality.
Internet becomes the therapy whereby the true or genuine self can be showcased clearly with the emphasis on aspects that they cannot easily thrash out in offline world. In this sense, people are not trying to build a favorable image but making an effort to be at least once who they really are without fear. They are simply seeking for a place where they can freely tell their deepest thoughts, weird opinions, personal problems or even their secrets with the hope that their voice will be heard. Needless to say, Internet empowers people to find solutions for all their needs.
Social judgements are on the way
For both cases mentioned, whether it is made subconsciously or is a representation of real self, there are always social approval and judgments involved.
Since users know someone is watching over them, sharing some news or personal updates, uploading a photo, or more subtle activities such as liking and commenting on a post or photo will lead to a better representation or impression of themselves as friendly, constructive, easy-to-approach, caring, considerate (and the list goes on) people. With the advance in privacy settings, the friends mentioned above could choose to share their stories only to a particular group of people. For both cases, people are seeking for social approval of their self, so in one way or another, social judgments have made its way into online sphere without any obstacles. In other words, online users have been internalizing a number of factors inherent in offline interactions. And whatever they are, there are still a lot of changes going on until people completely adjust themselves to the virtual world of communications.