Thursday, February 09, 2006

Identity Negotiation

One of the most interesting things about the internet is the ability people have to "negotiate" their online identity. Within their online social-spheres, people have the power to control what information is made available about themselves. This allows a far greater degree of control over others' perceptions of one's self than is possible in the physical world. And ultimately, I think this "negotiation" is a burden that I want as little to do with as possible.

Identity negotiation happens all over the internet. It happens in the selection of an e-mail address, an AIM username, an avatar for a message board, and in just about every activity that occurs on Myspace. Questionnaires about height, weight, interests, lifestyle, food and alcohol preferences, sexuality, etc. are bandied about on Myspace on an hourly basis. How one answers these questions, what images one includes on their Myspace page, what music they select, how they choose to communicate... It is all done, consciously or subconsciously, with intent to put forward what the individual considers a positive image of one's self. Not convinced? Go online and look up a friend on Myspace or Facebook. Now just tell me they didn't try to make themselves sound as cool as possible. And notice all the profiles created and/or updated when enrolled in grad school? Notice the lack of talk about getting laid off? About living with one's parents at 25? Notice the creative embellishments of careers? Distorted physical descriptions? Sometimes I barely recognize my friends...

Recently, while setting up a Myspace profile, I was in a particular mood - certain things were prevalent in my mind, certain concerns pushed forward and others pushed back. I answered questions about my interests, heroes, etc., with these preoccupations governing my answers. My "description" was written primarily with this focus. What resulted was a profile that, while not unbecoming of me, gave a very limited impression of me. The full weight of this was only realized when my girlfriend checked out my profile and responded with slightly bemused exasperation. Ultimately, I had composed a profile of myself that had the potential to outright confuse those who know me intimately. I had attempted to "negotiate" my identity, and it fell flat someone who already has a strong conception of my identity. Under this lens, my profile seemed a travesty, an offense against myself and those who know me. This caused me to reconsider any attempts to overtly define my identity...

So what does all this mean? It means I am going to step back from "defining" myself, and let my actions speak. Anything I attempt to say in a Myspace profile, etc., will ultimately be woefully inadequate and ultimately present a limited representation of me - a misrepresentation of me. And nothing I can say in a "blurb" about myself can compare to the volumes of knowledge and impressions my friends have and hold regarding me. In response to this, I will attempt to leave my online "identity" to be defined, in the impressions of others, by the same organic process by which my real-world identity has been cultivated - by interactions and actions, not by premeditated soapboxing.


...But then again, didn't I just write all this with a certain image of myself in mind?

4 Comments:

At 1:50 PM, Blogger brendalynn said...

Does this mean you're no longer the fiery liberal knight? Or just that you recognized you negotiated your identity?

Is your blog really just an ode to danah boyd?

 
At 7:33 PM, Blogger Zac said...

That's still part of me.

And danah boyd is just a trigger...

 
At 5:37 PM, Blogger brendalynn said...

ok, but is negotiating one's identity online any different than negotiating it in the real world? For each new person you meet--who can't put you in a pre-existing context--don't you also construct your identity for them too, without the use of an online medium?

 
At 5:45 PM, Blogger Zac said...

I'd say it's no different if the process online is as organic as it is in the real world. However, the various forums for internet socialization often prompt responses to canned questions in order to quickly arrive at an "identity." This differs from the identity that emerges though interaction and conversation. However, I've recently been convinced of the value of the internet in establishing identity. See the upcoming post.

 

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