Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thinking about online identity

Influenced by Erving Goffman's 'Presentation of Self', I see identity as an ongoing project. While the notion of an essential self, or an inner core, has a romantic appeal, there is unlikely to be a 'real me' but rather a series of identity performances, through which I control, or at least attempt to control, the communication of information about who I am. In face to face contexts a wide range of identity positions are available to me; mother, academic, circus performer ...

Perhaps a wider range of positions are available online? Without physical constraints it may be easier to perform identity positions that cross not only roles but genders, or even species. But then face to face, as online, the only limitations on the identity positions I occupy is my ability to effectively convince my audience of the consonance of my identity markers with the role I have assumed.

Some identity markers I give out, intentionally. But I also give off information unintentionally. I might tell people that I am Australian, but if I do not they could read that from my accent, the words I choose, or the experiences I discuss.

Peter Steiner’s New Yorker cartoon commented on the invisibility of some identity markers in the online environment, contributing to a utopian view that online we could be free of the constraints of the body as gender, race and class would not exist online. In Babes on the Web I noted that “Theorists writing on computer mediated communication often see it in similar terms to cyber-punk fiction, as providing the possibility of separating an essential self from the body that contains and constrains it."

However research by Amy Bruckman, Susan Herring, Leslie Regan Shade and others quickly identified that embodied identity information seeps through, even when the identity markers are limited to textual cues.

Kibby, M. (1997). Babes on the Web: Sex, identity and the home page. Media International Australia, 84, 39-45

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