Having an identity is not a new concept. Every one is having at least one since the dawn of the civilization; ascribed identity. Anthropologists and sociologist have been discussing different aspects of identity ever since. But identity has never been a general problem until now; in the information age .
Things started changing fast in the Information Age. After the advent of computers and the Internet, the world around us is continually changing. People are evolving newer norms and folkways for conducting themselves in contemporary society.
Nicks, handles and URLs are being exchanged and they already have started appearing on visiting cards. The Information technologies are helping global and more aware societies in countless ways, putting one’s identity online being one of them.
There are so many users who interact with the Internet, and so many different things that they do besides getting connected to each other for communication. In the process, many users go a long way to create online identities.
Paradoxically, digital identities can be duplicated perfectly and easily. In addition, Internet world makes it easy for users to present themselves in as many different forms as they want to; even gender swapping.
Internet has made it possible for any one to stay anonymous and still reach out to a vast audience the world over. Details users provide (or do not provide) are entirely up to them.
With so many easy options to stay on the Internet and do things anonymously, assuming any desired identity is quite common. Theoretically, this is not much different from classical literary nom de plume or anonymous, which publishing on printing press allowed.
Only it has been relatively difficult to remain anonymous for long in real world, it is much easier online. Hence, it has become a standard option of communication on the Internet.
I do not subscribe to the idea but some call this aspect as a freedom to be whatever you want to be. Celebrated writers like Sherry Turkle in her book “Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet” emphasises, “Perhaps one of the most secure things about the Internet in this day and age is that on the Internet, you are anonymous.”
And then there are some aspects of identity that inherently remain hidden below the surface in text-based communication. This divides users in two groups: Those who choose to create a clear digital identity that can be related to who they are in person and those who choose to remain hidden behind the walls of anonymity. This is about the later – how computers and the Internet are causing users to adopt online identities in the age of the Internet.
There are still many problems with online identities though. Currently there is no generic system for recognition of any identity in virtual world. Electronic bits do not carry any inseparable and unique information along with them hence cannot define who users are or more importantly who they are not.
So far information required for authentication is lacking and it is not possible to identify anyone online with absolute certainty. This has given rise to a sort of mistrust in the medium. What is more, users are not bothered about it; they have started taking this suspicion for granted instead.
Common niches for self-displaying own identities in the forms of bios and profiles include personal home pages, different social sites, blogs, email and myriad of other accounts and registries on the World Wide Web.
Most of these sites hoist their user’s identity information for free whereas there are some premium places where users actually pay for showcasing themselves. Then there are online activities where users leave behind bits and pieces of information.
Combinations of these isolated pieces of personal information make quite a biographical sketch that forms a strong online identity, sometime the users may not be aware of.
Not to mention information left while engaged in activities like credit cards, online shopping practices, health and social securities because they are not yet common in this part of the world.
There is a plenty of general information on the Web about online identity, how some users create and what they do with it. Consider this case: “I picked a typical login name and created a temporary yahoo e-mail account to go with it.
Then I had to create a profile where I listed my interests as: chocolate and clothes. I activated my account and my new blonde identity was soon added alongside thousands of other females with low self-esteem who desperately need attention.
I thought it would be fun to see exactly how much attention an attractive girl on the Internet receives. My theory was that I would get a few replies from guys who were interested in meeting me.
My expectations were exceeded. I was bombarded. I was amazed at just how many losers there were on the Internet. In a 24 hour time period, I was able to locate 342 guys in my area who had the time to email a random girl on a website whose interests were chocolate and clothes…” Excuse me, I did not experiment this. An anonymous writer has narrated this personal account on Website Sophists – Philosophy forums and psychology news.
So what is the point? My point is that online identity is becoming a bit of a pressing issue, particularly among high end users who have integrated Internet in their lives.
Intuitive insight of conventional identity is fading away slowly. In the longer run, this may change the fibres of our society. So, let us reassess who we are in cyberspace? Are we real self as in real world or someone slightly different? What if one wears a mask or is assigned the wrong identity by someone else? Internet will not become a reality till the time such issues are adequately addressed and problems solved.