A few weeks ago I was musing about online identity (still am) and what we needed to do to manage ourselves in an "I'm Googling You" world. The other night Angela White left me a comment that got me thinking about that again:
I don't want to have to limit any part of me - I am all of those things. I have many interests and many of them are online. But I do think that before I started really blogging I never thought about these things, I have never consciously branded myself - and therefore I think it has, as you say, "just happened." And it's messy and all over the place.
That's the thing. Our digital identities ARE all over the place. If we've "managed" that process, then presumably we're presenting our best sides, presenting an idealized self as we'd like the world to see us. But if we haven't managed it, then a more "real" self, flaws and all may emerge. Or is my idealized self, the "brand" I present online any less "me" than the less-than-perfect parts of me? Not sure. The video above is an interesting little foray into the idea suggesting that the "brand" we present online is as legitimately a self as any other.
Related to this idea of the idealized self, an essay in Time from a few weeks ago, "You Are Not My Friend" on how we're using social networks like Facebook for branding:
But really, these sites aren't about connecting and reconnecting. They're a platform for self-branding. Old people are always worrying that our blogging and personal websites and MySpace profiles are taking away our privacy, but they clearly don't understand the word privacy. We're not sharing things we don't want other people to know. We're showing you our best posed, retouched photos. We're listing the Pynchon books we want you to think we've read all the way through. We're allowing other people to write whatever they want about us on our walls, unless we don't like it, in which case we just erase it. If we had that much privacy in real life, the bathrooms at that Minnesota airport would be empty.
Having spent some time on Facebook and MySpace, not sure that I agree that we're presenting idealized versions of ourselves in these networks--I've seen enough photos and wall comments on that "wild party last weekend, dude" to think that on social networks we're doing less identity management than maybe we should.
Maybe what we need, as John Powers suggested, is a way to start forgetting some things. Maybe all this computing power that makes digital identity so challenging (the Web NEVER forgets) is the real problem.
As humans we've always managed how we present ourselves to the world--we've always wanted to put our best foot forward. But in the digital world, what that looks like gets much broader--I can have several identities at once, all living on in their own little worlds--and my various identities are always there, just a Google search away. Makes it harder to change and to grow when an employer can so quickly and easily find out that 10 years ago you were seriously into partying. Does that employer have the ability to use that information for good or does it appear as immediate as anything you did 10 months ago and therefore makes you still suspect?
I suspect that we have a ways to go in learning how to evaluate and integrate all these facets of identity. In real life, I can only present one identity at a time. I might bring in different pieces as we get to know each other better, but you generally have the time to integrate these new pieces of knowledge about me into what you already know and the process feels more organic. But I'm already seeing that presenting different faces to the world online is more problematic--we have a hard time integrating all those pieces together at once. What do we we do when your blog, your Facebook profile and your activity on various online forums shows me all facets of who you are within 5 minutes. Can I handle that? Can I integrate all of that or will I just look at the negative pieces and run the other way?
No answers here--just some more questions. I agree with Angela that this is all very messy.