Implications of online identities. Discuss the past, present, and future implications of our online identities.
Examine the effects of social media on identity whether it’s personal, social, or cultural and discuss whether it’s possible to create and maintain an authentic identify on the internet.
From chatting with strangers in early internet forums to modern social media and multiplayer games, our online identities are playing an increasingly important part of our lives. Online identity can be many different things. For companies like Amazon, it’s the goods we buy and the books we like. For YouTube, it’s the content we watch.
Your identity is who you are and what you do. Your visual identity is how other people recognize you. And ironically, the first phone call ever made by Alexander Graham Bell contained the words:
“Mr. Watson, come here — I want to see you.”
Our visual identity is an essential part of human communication. It’s how we represent other people’s identities in our minds. With the rise of the internet, the need to express our identities virtually became increasingly important. How have our virtual identities evolved since then? And even more importantly — where are they going in the future?
With the advent of BBS (1978), Usenet (1980) and IRC (1988), online communication was kickstarted. Creating a need to express our identities virtually.
Like everything else on the early internet, identities were represented as text. A username. A pseudonym. A string of characters that represent you in social interactions online.
Regardless of the simplicity of the visual representation, users felt a tight connection with their made-up identities.
An excellent example of the power of this can be brought from an even earlier time — from arcade games. Gamers could choose a three-character combination as a nickname that would represent their identities in the game. Making youngsters spend countless hours and money just to get their name displayed on the high score list.
In the early internet, users shielded behind an electronic mask of anonymity. Anyone could be anyone. An alter ego that they preferred. It was sometimes difficult to tell if you were striking up a conversation with a dog.
While anonymity can be useful in some aspects, it’s also bad in many others. It’s good because it makes you safe and more open. It’s bad because it probably makes you a prick — more on that in a future post.
In the 90s, internet forums became more visually advanced. The next step in representing our online identities was the avatar. Personal avatar icons — picons, that users could upload or choose from pre-select options on online forums.
The avatar represented user’s persona, beliefs and social status in the forum. It allowed other people to recognize your contributions without looking at your username. It was a much more visual way to express your identity and interact with others’.
For a long time, it wasn’t common to use your real-life identities on the internet. Users were hiding behind a series of alter egos they created for various purposes on the internet. It was creepy and dangerous to use your real identity — why would anyone upload a picture of themselves to the internet?
The rise of social media changed that. Starting from Friendster and MySpace, people began sharing their real names, pictures, interests with other people on the internet.
To where we are now — there’s no limit to the amount we share about our lives virtually. Photos of vacations, our kids growing up. Our political beliefs and religion.