In my Intro to Sociology course I teach students about the way in which the perceptions of others shape our various selves. For our friends we are one person, another person with our parents, another person with our spouse, and so on. This week’s topic, Digital Identity, got my wheels spinning and got me thinking about who exactly we are online and how we present various selves depending on our audience. There was a rather interesting quote in the Pasquini reading that stated “as your online self is your real, off-line self”. I would argue much differently. If you look through the comments of any gossip website you’ll see various inappropriate comments from people who feel a sense of freedom and power and express themselves much differently than they would in real life. If you look on facebook or instagram you find people promoting a lifestyle, relationship, etc. that they want you to believe that they have. So it leads me to question how real are our digital identities, especially when it comes to professional digital identities. How much are we censoring, how much are we revising and editing before we hit submit on a post, how much are we being shaped by our audience and how we want them to perceive us??

The reading also talked about the stakes being high, addiction of social media, and how our online presence is evaluated online. I would argue that as professionals we are much more aware of how high the stakes are and how responsible we have to be with our digital identity than a teen or an individual in their early 20s. I am extremely grateful that social media didn’t really exist when I was in college — a time when students are supposed to have tons of fun and not worry about a picture being posted that can haunt you forever, especially professionally!!! I digress…

All this to say, I have thought a lot about my digital identity over the past five years or so. There was a time when I was very active on instagram and twitter. Then, as the article mentioned, I realized how addictive it was and how much time I was wasting and how meaningless feedback or reactions could dictate my emotions for the day. So, professionally, I struggle with having a digital identity and not falling back down the rabbit hole because it is extremely hard to separate the two….

I also wonder, is having a digital identity really necessary? For whom? How important will it be when I go up for tenure and are those who are evaluating my tenure portfolio taking my digital identity seriously or are they scoffing at my online presence and thinking I could have spent my time doing something more productive???

4 Thoughts to “Our various selves”

  1. Ruthie

    As a current student and one who grew up with social media, I can say that I agree and disagree with your statements. First, I find that I obsess over what I post on Instagram, Facebook, or anything that I post. So I agree that we become addicted to social media, regardless of age. The only statement that I can say differently to is worrying about my digital identity. I have always been aware of what I post because I know that it’s public. I am always cautious about things that I share because I know that it’ll be out there forever. However, this is the way that it has always been for me, so I see no impact.
    I enjoyed your post!

  2. Autumm

    Hi Cristina,

    Thanks so much for this compelling post. It is really refreshing to hear you speak about some of the complexity around identity and environment. Often when talking about digital identity the word “authenticity” comes up. I find this term highly problematic for the reasons that you state. We are never presenting ourselves in a stable consistent way across all environments – that would not be human. We shift the way we present ourselves based on context – this is normal. If I were speaking with my mother I would speak differently than if I were speaking in a job interview. Yet everyone strives for the single shining authentic self that is flawless and pristine – especially online.

    But it is here that I would say that Pasquini is making a point about a very specific context. She is not citing anonymous posts on gossip sites – she is specifically speaking about a scholarly/academic public persona (and I would argue that her points are easily transferred to other professional contexts). When working in that kind of environment, with a recognizable digital identity that is tied to scholarly outputs – well the stakes are just much higher or “real” as some like to say. I think that is her point anyway.

    You also bring up a really important point about who has time and privilege to maintain a scholarly digital ID – it is highly problematic.

  3. @Clelis

    Cristina, you bring up some interesting points. The one that caught me was ‘are those who are evaluating my tenure portfolio taking my digital identity seriously.’ Whether they are or aren’t, just the fact that you have to guess who your audience is and what they want is stressful. In this time of rapidly changing norms, it’s hard to know where to direct our limited time and how to tailor our efforts. What is casual conversation and what is critical? Which comment will decide our professional identities? The stakes are high.
    That has left me feeling overwhelmed and disengaged-no one can be all things to all people, but it feels like we’re being expected to navigate all expectations of all people at any time now or in the future.
    The V&R mapping allowed me to visualize how I have reacted to this by trying to keep a hard line between my personal and institutional identities.
    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  4. Avery

    Ugh, Cristina, you captured so much of what I’ve been feeling and thinking this week so eloquently! Thank you for this post. I do question how important having a digital identity is. I have a LinkedIn because I did think it was important to have SOMETHING but I vehemently dislike Facebook and feel mostly neutral or uninterested about most other social media platforms.
    Your first paragraph about perceptions of self and others brought back the concept of “context collapse” from our readings. I think context collapse is a large reason I feel such apprehension about posting but also this feeling of loss of control.
    Thanks again!

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