Digital Social Me – Do I Have Choice?

Social Identity: ‘The recognition of one’s potential and qualities as an individual, especially in relation to social context:

Caring can become the defining characteristic of women’s self-identity.’

Other forms of social identity are how one is recognized in the sporting world, whether as a player or a spectator. How one is accepted by their peers, such as school, family, work, religion, cults, sports, hobbies etc. Even how one is amongst others that simply share their place on the planet. Social identity is how one is perceived by others, and even more importantly how one is perceived by ‘themselves’ in their social circle. ‘Socialization’ enables us to fit into social groups and make adjustments to new situations’ Poole, M & Germov.

The Digital Self
Then there is the ‘Digital Identity’ Deborah Lupton states, ‘Accessing our news, music, television, films via digital platforms and devices. Intimate work-related relationships, our membership of communities may be at least partly developed, maintained using social media: LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.’ These statements of Lupton’s cement the fact that Digital Identities have quickly taken over from where the non-digital social identities played the part in our lives. Developing and maintaining digital social memberships has never been so easy. Facebook for example is far too easy, in fact Facebook have made it so members cannot entirely close an account. Just in case they change their mind, and they usually do. Dhiraj Murthy wrote about ‘Twitter’s ability to cross traditional social boundaries and inequalities’ these abilities of such a social networking device have never been experienced before in the pre-digital social identity platform. As much truth that digital social networking can mask the reality of who we are dealing with, there is an equally powerful element that hiding, omitting or not publicizing certain elements can far more easily bridge the gap. This gap caused by discriminated cultures, religions, appearance, and even deformities.

Yes Digital Identities are a new form of Social Identity. This new form of social identity can be extremely powerful given the extent to which people can ‘Alter’ their digital selves if and when desired. Chris Brichell wrote, ‘An individual’s ability to change form, age, gender, position or sexual orientation.’ These are just some of the variables we can change about ourselves online to portray our Digital Identities. More specific characteristics people can change and often do are: Physical prowess, Eye colour, Education, Temperament, Popularity, Height, Weight etc. Other forms of Altering of digital selves are the ability to Omit certain sensitive information that reflects a person’s digital self, such as the fact that a person’s sibling or parent is or was in Prison or sees a Shrink.

Other forms of social identity are youth culture. Only decades ago youth culture meant deviance. Youth deviating from the norm, from rules, from society. Poole, M & Germov observed that ‘Before the 1970s, youth cultures meant deviance, a threat to public order.’ This threat to public order still exists but isn’t readily stigmatized by the mainstream as it used to be but accepted with a cringe by most who have no doubt been there before.

The Dating Game
The online dating aspect of social identity brings with it power that usually has not been there before for many. This power is the ability to ‘Hail’ potential buyers in the online dating marketplace. Brickell mentions the action ‘to hail somebody’, ‘The state interpellates its subjects into discourse by hailing them, much as a policeman might hail the bystander with the call of ‘Hey, you there!’ These are usually in the form of attention grabbing profile pictures, profile headlines and further personal information given freely. Positive and negative hailing is commonplace. The positive hailing to potential buyers are, ‘hey look at me, I’m sensational and I am available.’ The negative hailing are the ones that narrow the goal posts in ways such as, ‘only reply if you are… if you look like… if you are financially set…’ Brickell’s ‘such power-laden statements force us to consider whether or not we have the qualities demanded by others, and to ask a series of questions: Is that me?’ Another form of this online dating is the old newspaper dating columns. These newspaper ads to a degree had the ability to ‘hail’ the prospective buyer, and the ability to force the prospective buyer to ask oneself a series of questions. Questions that were most likely not even in the ad. Using these two examples of online dating and newspaper dating I’ve drawn very similar descriptions between them but the power of the online cannot be compared to the newspaper form of dating of yesteryear. The online world has opened up many more bigger doors, broken down stigma and therefore the types, cultures, ages and even religion affiliated God fearing have no doubt embraced the online dating with far less apprehension. In this way many more have developed a digital self that has far less scruples that their social self.

The Gamer
The digital identity of the gamer. Identifying oneself as a gamer has changed. The more mature and responsible and even female sector have become the serious player. In ways that a car driver is to a race-car driver, as a video game-player is to a ‘gamer.’ This way of comparing them takes the ‘gamer’ image up a notch or two. Shaw states that, ‘How people identify as gamers, is a different question from who counts as a gamer.’ It takes the individual to rate oneself as a gamer, the individual has the self-appointed authority owing to their seriousness to label themselves through their digital identity as a ‘gamer,’ and if they don’t, their digital peers will. The digital identity versus the social identity regarding the world of the ‘gamer’ opens new doors never before opened. Strong positives and strong negatives. Shaw mentions that ‘Gamer identity exists in relation to, but is not determined by, other identities like gender, race, and sexuality.’ In the social worlds’ we build: gender, race and sexuality a lot of the time and play the main roles in our social status, but in the digital world we build, we can change, we enhance, we even invent whole new beings that don’t fall prey to the usual discriminations that the (physical) social world inflicts on us consciously or unconsciously. This constitutive power enables the digital self to have more ability and more freedom than the traditional social self could ever have had before. As Brickell wrote ‘We become our pages of Facebook, Myspace and anywhere else we announce our presence to an online audience’ This constitutive power spreads even more wider in digital areas such as ‘the world of the gamer’. This digital self outreaches any power that the social self once had, such as YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter and FaceTime. The cyber connections we are making more and more easily are staggering especially for the ‘gamer’ to put their wits against a person in another country, a country their government may even be at war with.

The New Reality
In conclusion to this discussion on the digital self versus the social self, the scary amount of information that is readily available to the digital self that was not as readily available to our old social selves. This has to be self governed if one wants to keep any form of sanity in the digital world. Andrejevic writes ‘The psychological reaction to such an overabundance of information and competing expert opinions is to simply avoid coming to conclusions’ The good old days when one would find out new information away from the digital, sadly have gone, and to shut off completely from the digital to hopefully stay informed have gone. To keep the sanity we are living in a digital world where more than ever before we are over informed – if we let that happen. The necessity to sift through information before being inundated with the oversupply of sometimes dangerous information has to become a priority.

The Looking Glass
Shanyang Zhao writes ‘We see ourselves through the “looking glass”’ We don’t see ourselves as we are but through what others tend to judge who we are. This socialization we go through builds our view of ourselves and mainly our digital selves. Our digital selves having a far quicker self appraisal system than the social self once had. Zhao says ‘we come to see ourselves through the lens of others.’ The ability to take out of the equation the element of the physical and build a whole new digital self – or many selves. These many digital selves keep evolving in more and more aspects of our lives whether we planned for this or not. Zhao writes ‘The self is an integrated structure that constantly evolves. To say that there is a “digital self” is not to suggest that a person’s self is actually split into physical and digital parts, but to acknowledge the salience of the impact of the “E-Audience”’ This E-Audience whether we look for it or not becomes the unseen commentators in our social self lives because our social self lives have morphed into the digital. Ever so gradually that most morphing goes unnoticed. To pry apart our digital self from our social selves has become an impossibility.

Lucid Being