Saturday, 24 March 2012

Digital Identity in Contemporary USA

In contemporary America, a digital identity has two separate and distinct sides - a dual identity if you will. The sheer variety of ways in which people can express themselves is ever growing and becoming more irresistible by the day. There are social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, for those who want to keep a track of friends and the news. There are dating sites and gaming sites for those who have difficulties interacting on a one to one basis. There are blogs and forums for those who like to express their opinions to the world. There is YouTube for the more extrovert amongst us, who like to make or view videos. There are even online diaries and writing sites for displaying individual talents and personal worries.

In the majority of cases, these websites are used by ordinary, honest people. It could be a way of eradicating the distance between themselves and another, perhaps friends or relatives they no longer see very often. It could be a way of keeping up with the progressions of the world, as the news is often reiterated across these websites. Most often, it is a new outlet for expressing their right to freedom of speech and expression. In this regard, their identity is controlled. They can reveal as much or as little of themselves as they wish. They can find likeminded people to share a collective identity - perhaps of a specific gender, class, sexuality, race, political interest, or even hobby. This is made even easier by the arrival of portable devices and wi fi, allowing people to pursue these interests no matter where they are in the world. Essentially they can connect emotionally and digitally without having to connect physically. Though, you could consider the biggest benefit to having an online digital identity is the idea of being able to live forever in some capacity, with your online identity outliving your human body, and in some respects, online we all become equals.

The other typical use of having a digital identity is that it enables you to hide your own. If there is an aspect of your personality or life you would rather keep hidden, an online identity allows you to do this. You could also create a whole new false identity for yourself. This side of having a digital identity is the most suspect, as cyber bullying, identity theft and hacking become rampant. Somebody could pretend to be somebody else and tarnish their name, or safely send abuse, just as children have fallen foul to paedophiles and people have had their online lives ruined when their bank accounts, email accounts and social network accounts have been hacked. Allowing people the option of being anonymous opens up many opportunities for the less amiable people in the world to take advantage of having a digital identity. There is also a side of the coin that doesn't allow for privacy - a contradiction behind being able to control your online identity is that you cannot control other peoples. There is always a fear that your privacy will be betrayed by people exposing film or photographic evidence of things you would otherwise prefer to keep hidden, as well as your whereabouts or actions being spoken about by others in this public way.

A digital identity is an extremely complicated concept. On the one hand, it can be a chance to exhibit a true version of yourself, perhaps allowing the more reserved to gather confidence or find allies, and also allows you to blend in with contemporary society, but on the other hand, when this is taken to the extreme or put into the hands of dishonest people, it often causes more harm than good and allows a new, almost uncontrollable form of deceit to become the norm. Progression dictates that identity will shift over time, but I am doubtful that out digital identities will ever become more important than our actual, real-life identity - the face people see in the mirror. As the Americans were the first to discover the internet and make full use of creating a digital identity, it goes without saying that the rest of the world would follow this example - this new phase can only have mixed repercussions on society and American identity on the whole; though I lean more towards believing it will break down some barriers that have been created over the years.

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