For my last post of the semester, I want to talk a little bit more about an issue that was discussed during lecture in Week 5 – online identity and authenticity.
Many questions were posed during this lecture – what is an online identity? Can an online identity be considered “authentic”? What separates an authentic identity from an inauthentic identity?
I go back and forth on the answers to these questions. On one hand, I feel like the formation of my various online identities has helped me to explore sides of myself that I wouldn’t have otherwise discovered. On the other hand, I think that each of my online identities allows me to express/explore one side of my identity, rather than my entire identity. On Facebook, I’m the supportive friend who likes to post, share, and comment on pictures of myself and my friends. On Twitter, I’m the sarcastic, sometimes overly-passionate pop culture lover. And I certainly identify as both of those things, but those are not the things that solely define me.
I’m also a bossy older sister, a literature lover, an anxious perfectionist, and constant worrier. I (hypothetically) have the opportunity to share all of those sides of myself and more online, but I would rather keep some of those sides to myself and the people with whom I’m closest.
During the lecture, I thought a lot about the book The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman.
In the book, the main character (a therapist) takes on a patient who has managed to create a suit that allows him to appear completely invisible. And instead of using his apparent invisibility to fight crime or otherwise try to make the world a better place, the man uses his technology to, essentially, spy on people. He sees people doing mundane, pathetic, and devastatingly harmful things, and he comes to the conclusion that people are only their “true” selves when they believe they are completely alone. And even though the book is a work of fiction, I’m inclined to agree.
If this assumption is true, would this not mean that an online identity is the opposite of “true” or “authentic”? After all, online identities are, more often than not, built to be seen and responded to by others. Yes, we can build an “anonymous” online identity, but one’s role as “anonymous” still encourages him or her to act a certain way. As Erving Goffman explains in “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life”, people act and take on specific roles whenever they interact with others. Why should online interaction be an exception?
My online identities have helped me to expand and analyze the ways in which I define myself, but I am certainly not my “authentic” self online.