a question of identity

one of the key themes in the blog discussions on web 2.0 has been the issue of identity.  Whether it be in the guise of protecting it, promoting it, stealing it or making it over, identity is at the core of how we as professionals (and social creatures) behave in an interactive online environment.

One of my main areas of research is the about the production and distribution of hand made printed magazines called zines (pronounced zeens).  The makers of zines often use a very unique style of writing and frequently portray themselves in their own zine in ways that represent their identity, but don’t identify who they are.  In the zine ‘epitaph for my heart: a survival guide to being social’, the writer is only identified as ‘amandapandajapanese’ and the photo of her is heavily photocopied and has part of her face obscured.  This is her public face or identity.

 

Now, what does all of this have to do with web 2.o and our professional identity I hear you ask?  Good question, I answer.  The front page we offer to the increasingly archived online world represents our primary public image.  We spend a large amount of time adding data to websites, social networking pages and professional social media like linked in or spotlight.  Let me ask you a question…how long did you take to choose the image for your facebook account? Or for your blog?  How many alternatives did you cycle through before you got there? Do you think the pic represents you? the best of you? an angle that makes you look different or more or less of something? (professional, attractive, employable, old, young whatever!) 

 

Tosun and  Lajunen (2010) identified that whilst internet usage can have negative effects on a users personality, these are negated or minimised when you can be your ‘true self’ on the internet  (Does Internet use reflect your personality? Relationship between Eysenck’s personality dimensions and Internet use Computers in Human BehaviorVolume 26, Issue 2, March 2010, Pages 162-167)

 

Fogel and Nehmad (2009) went further by identifying if there were any differences in how much of our identity we reveal (maybe our true self) in the use of facebook versus myspace or in terms of our gender or personal level of risk we generally take (see http://www.brooklyn.edu/pub/departments/bcurj/pdf/nehmad.pdf)

 

These two studies both look at the notion of issues such as trust, privacy, risk, behaviours and confidence that occur in an online environment.  Are these different than in a work environment or a social group? There are differences in terms of availability (try fitting 500 million facebook users in a bar!) and in terms of access (the internet allows relatively easy, searchable access to information, and privacy is more at the discretion of user as opposed to something that is automatically assumed – think of it as if your bank gave out the details of your bank account, just not the pin to access it – if you could select the option to not display that information, I am sure most of us would.  Its just that banks would never make you make that decision, its automatically assumed)\

 

However, back the zines example.  There is something to be said for the creation and usage of an online persona.  Adesola in her blog made note of the use of an avatar (my facebook has a look-a-like avatar, but my blog has a pic of me).  Is your identity simply portrayed by a photo or name?  I’d argue that your identity is better portrayed and constructed through the content you generate online, the way you interact, the messages you transmit and the way you engage with others both inside or outside your networks.  ‘Epitaph for my heart’ is not about the way it looks, or that I don’t know her name, or can’t see her face its about the content, which is funny, engaging, disarming and very honest.  Yes, we need a way to identify her and in this case, a way to contact her (http://tinypaperhearts.com/)  but in this case, her words do the talking.

 

Some food for thought I hope!