In a normal Australian leafy suburb, approximately 25 years ago
In a dimly lit classroom, a trio of girls sit round a flashing screen. Wearing blue, white, and maroon checked dresses, they sit in a semi-circle on wooden chairs. Intermittent gasps and whispers can be heard from behind a tall carpeted partition.
“Do you know?” the shy skinny blonde impatiently asks the petite Eurasian girl staring at the flashing image on the screen.
“Oh! I know!” the Goldilocks lookalike announces excitedly, turning towards the skinny blonde on her left. “It’s Bu-da-pest!”
The petite Eurasian girl hunts frantically for the letters on the keyboard…tap-tap-tap…(B-U-D)…
Powerful, smart, and savvy: they are collectively, for a moment in time, not Year Six students, but the heroine of the world, Carmen Sandiego.
By Jason Scott [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
This is one of my first memories of being exposed to the concept of digital / online / virtual identities. As a child of the 1980s, social demographers refer to my peers and I as Generation Y. Our early school years were filled with outdoor games, bike rides, fruit picking, and tree climbing. Kind of like the Netflix series, Stranger Things, but without the creepiness, or Winona.
By Lowtrucks (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I was the little Aussie born Eurasian girl meeting an Apple Mac computer for the first time, in 1993.
My First foray into social networking: Building a MySpace
My first flirtation with online identity happened in the mid-2000s. MySpace was where it was at. I’d just started my first real job! Dressed in a suit, chatting to other recent uni grads in the lunchroom, we quickly added each other. Oh, it was so cool…my name was Sumo is Not a Salad and I was awfully proud of my witty name…but in the world of media platforms, eleven years is a lifetime ago…
By Mark Skipper from Cambridge, UK (Myspace is for losers) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)
Schultze (2015) says that “we construct the technology, but the technology constructs us.”
How very true that has been, with my second foray into social networking with what my friend’s Italian mother calls “ The BookFace.”
Performing, Persuading, and Pursuing: forming my young adult identity in the age of Facebook
In 2007, I moved to Japan to teach English. By this stage, MySpace’s popularity was starting to dwindle. My American and Canadian newfound friends I flatted with introduced me to a new social media platform called Facebook. I didn’t hesitate to sign up.
Using skills I had acquired using MySpace, I continued refining my online identity. I began to engage in what Castells (2009) refers to as “mass self-communication.” This included not only maintaining a Facebook page but also sending home a weekly email to friends and family about my travels through The Land of the Rising Sun. I didn’t know anything about blogging, even though Miller & Shepherd (2004) say this had been increasing in popularity for several years prior.
This year marks my ten-year relationship with Facebook. We’ve shared many times together, both good and bad. Facebook has allowed me to maintain friendships with the other English teachers I met in Tokyo. Some have remained in my inner circle, and others have slipped away.
I have morphed from a twenty-four-year-old English teacher living in Tokyo, partying hard, socialising regularly, and travelling a lot, to a relatively sedate thirty-four-year-old postgraduate writing student living in Melbourne, who is quite content spending Saturday nights curled up watching something on ABCiView with my two cats, partner, and chocolate at the ready.
Online and Offline Identities: same but different?
Marshall (2010, 40) believes that “what is constructed via Facebook but equally through Twitter is a construction of character for a kind of ritual of the performance of the self.”
But I want to know: What parts of my online identity are authentically me? When reflecting upon this, I can’t help but think of the first few lines of a poem from Shakespeare’s As You Like It:
All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players,
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts…
According to Kennedy (2006), we are all continually composing our identity: both online and offline.
From about 2012-2013, I had two Facebook accounts: one for work, and one for my personal life. This became quite exhausting. Once I left teaching, I gladly, and promptly deactivated my work Facebook profile. It was too time-consuming to maintain. The need to have a work one simply wasn’t there anymore: it was irrelevant.
LinkedIn: making me look like an adult since 2015
Moving to Melbourne in January 2015, I started a LinkedIn page. To make contacts and network, I tried out a few community organisations in my local area. One was a political party. LinkedIn helps me to connect with some members from the local branch. But the political party wasn’t my cup of tea. So, onwards and upwards – I’ve re-branded myself as a writer! I’ve done what van Dijck (2013) calls “self-promotion.”
Hey, chick! Last time I checked, I wasn’t a bird: Being a late adopter of Twitter
I have recently started a Twitter account as I am studying a course on online communication at university. At first, I didn’t see the relevance.
“I’m not a celebrity.”
“Why would I need a Twitter account?”
“What would I Tweet about anyway?” I thought.
But I started to build my profile around my identity as a writer and see Twitter’s usefulness, as a tool for self-expression (van Dijck, 2013). I am also doing what Min and Lee (2011, in Bronstein, 2013, 163) call “impression management.”
In sum, I can conclude that my online and offline identities are complex. They are interconnected. Like a Venn Diagram, some parts overlap with each other, and some parts are separate. Like any other person living in society, there are some parts of my identity that I choose to show or promote to my online contacts, while other parts are only for those I choose to share my life with offline.
But it’s so much more than that. My offline identity informs my online identity, and vice-versa. My identity is shaped by others in my sphere of social influence. In terms of offline, this may include strangers, acquaintances, friends, family, and more. But online, I can screen out those who I do not wish to listen to, those I do not wish to see. Of course, we can all ignore strangers in public, but it’s damn rude to ignore acquaintances at work or in another social situation.
Is this a good or a bad thing? I’m not sure. I don’t think you can say it is one or the other. All I know is that my identity is constantly changing, I am uniquely me…shaped by society, and social media…
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