Digital Identity and Authenticity

One of my most cherished values is authenticity.  I strive to be authentic in my interactions and in how I present myself.  This doesn’t mean I’m rude or mean just because I feel like it; for me authenticity has to be balanced with tact and social acumen, but being my true self even when that may be unpopular is important to me and something that I have worked toward throughout my life.  I know everyone is different, but I feel like for me, most of my teens and even early twenties were spent trying to be someone.  Sometimes it was someone I thought others wanted me to be and sometimes it was someone I wanted to be but it wasn’t usually just being me, who I was in that moment in time.  One of the things I am proudest of as I’ve gotten older is figuring out who I am, embracing that person and presenting her to the public.  So how does that jive with the idea of one’s “digital identity”?  I think one of the challenges is that, at least as an individual who has a relatively small/inactive digital identity, every digital interaction is a very small, incomplete snapshot of who I am or what I’m thinking.  IRL or in a digital interaction with someone I know IRL, a single interaction is part of the bigger picture of my identity vis a vi another individual.  As an example, when I post a link to an article about Anne of Green Gables or a video about some novelty candy to a friend’s facebook, they experience that in the context of what they know about me in my totality as an individual.  Yes, a big Anne fan but also someone who enjoys Agatha Christie, Hanya Yanagihara and trashy television.  Or a girl who enjoys her raspberry mocha m&ms (sort of) but ate a salad for lunch with ingredients from her CSA and also enjoys scallops when out to eat (or fish buttons as my husband aptly calls them).  I am hesitant to interact with people digitally who I don’t know IRL because I feel as if they are missing the bigger context of who I am.  I guess I feel like it’s hard to represent oneself authentically in a brief digital interaction unless it’s of the most mundane nature.  Yes, I would like to purchase your baby moccasins is ok but “person I just met online let me indicate that I think your GIF is humorous and indicate that I do get the joke” is much trickier.  I find that emoji help to an extent but I frequently write several sentences where the average person would use a word or two in order to make sure that my meaning (and me) are correctly understood and identified.  So my question, how do I manage my desire for authenticity in brief digital interactions and not let it keep me from engaging in them?

(3) Comments

  1. Joe Murphy

    Hi Sarah,

    It occurs to me that we have thousands of face-to-face interactions which are similarly surface-level. When you say “thank you” to the waiter who brings you those scallops (yum!) or ask the farmer at the CSA how many more weeks of asparagus are left, that’s a little, authentic, incomplete snapshot of you in that moment in your life. So you might think about how those little moments with new acquaintances relate to new digital-first acquaintances.

    Sometimes those moments become part of something bigger… I’m currently making an effort to learn the staff’s names at my local coffee shop. (This is mostly because a new staff member introduced himself and I got embarrassed that I didn’t know the rest of the staff.) And sometimes a little moment is all there is… I recently moved offices and threw out a whole bunch of business cards for people who I’m sure were perfectly nice, and I hope I was fully present with them, but I really can’t remember them now.

    Of course the big difference is that our digital interactions do leave a reviewable footprint. There are certainly a few interactions I’ve left out there which I’m not proud of anymore. (I was probably authentically proud of them at the time, but time wounds all heels.) So it is a little different than managing ephemeral interactions where we’ve only got memories to go on instead of evidence.

    1. Sarah

      Thanks for that Joe! Good point about the difference between ephemeral IRL interactions and the (minor) footprint left by digital interactions. Perhaps that’s part of my hang up as well as the lack of body language which says so much more than words.

  2. autumm

    Thanks for this post Sarah. Authenticity is always something that comes up when we start talking about identity. Here is the thing…. I don’t think that even in the flesh you can really portray your in-depth authentic self all of the time to everyone. Do you worry about being your authentic self with the person at the check-out counter? If you do worry about it do you feel that the encounter even gives you enough time and tools fo expression to really flesh it out? I’m thinking no. You do the best you can with what you have in that brief encounter to bring yourself to that person. Perhaps you smile and make small talk or perhaps you need to ask to talk to a manager because of problem. Either way you do the best with what you have and with the tools and customs of the environment to bring the elements of who you are to that space.

    I hope this helps. I also hope that through DigPINS that you can find some tools that allow you to express yourself.

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