I’ve been thinking lately about society shifting, as our online selves proliferate. It’s possible the change may startle my age group most of all.
Early in our generation’s lifetime, the only bits identifying us were our address, and phone number. We were publicly findable, but not known. In those days, if you lived by the code of staying out of the newspapers except at birth, marriage, and death, the rest of your identity stayed right there with you all the time. “Where am I?” one might ask. “Right here,” was always the answer. Photographs lived in boxes, personal musings in notebooks.
But now, right when the urgings of midlife may tell us to settle down, to integrate any separate selves developed across multiple roles – the world is blowing up in an explosion of identity.
I don’t know how involved you all are, online. And I am not encouraging anyone to participate if they don’t want to. Societies function in multiple streams, many things are true at the same time. But where I sit, I experience a shift in how it feels to be a person.
I first stepped into online communities when my daughter applied to college, on a forum called College Confidential. I began as many do, wholly anonymous, divulging all sort of feelings without any identifying information. I was only what I wrote, no profile, no links. Two and a half years later, I began this blog. Again, at first, anonymous, but eventually stepping forward with my name. Identified as me.
Now I’m to be found many “places.” I use the quotation marks advisedly, for the word “place” is shifting too. I’m here as Lisa, on other blogs commenting as Lisa, or LPC, on Twitter as @AmidPrivilege, Tumblr and Polyvore as AmidPrivilege,Flickr as skyepeale, Facebook as myself, and so on. The other day someone asked me to join Pinterest. Starts to feel rather like a hall of mirrors.
Thing is, I don’t just mean “found,” as in others can find me. I mean as in I find my self. I know from my User Experience days that we orient ourselves very thoroughly to effective software environments. The more we use them, the more we internalize their functions and express their outcomes as our own. With one, or limited software homes, one can feel, “I am primarily Me, but here is me on Microsoft Office. And over here is that same me, on Facebook.” Once we start participating in multiple environments, the me’s-on-twitter me’s-on-Polyvore me’s on Google + begin to influence Me in ways we cannot predict or control.
There must be scholarly articles examining this, somewhere.
This week I had lunch with two people I’ve gotten to know via blogging. I had always expected that meeting people in real life might feel like “Aha! My real self revealed.” But I found that writing, here, for you all, has altered my inner and therefore real voice. Me. That’s OK. I welcome the change and experience it as evolution.
Why? As a young woman, I was prone to blurting. Does anyone remember the original tagline for Privilege? “A High WASP Stops To Consider?” Augmenting talk with text-based, time-lagged communications allows one to merge one’s blurted self into one’s considered self. And the other way around. Evolution.
Who knows where this is going? Not I. Our children have had their online selves so long that they have gone beyond self-disclosure and self-examination, now leveraging the multiplicity inherent in online life to build ironic self-referential, inferred meta-identities. Yeah, that’s a lot of big words. I don’t know how else to say it. Go look at Reddit, for a taste. Penelope Trunk writes that Generation Y spends a lot of time managing their images. As well they might.
I figure the impact of the Internet will play out over time. That’s how it happens. Take the Era of the Internal Combustion Engine. One day a motor, the next an auto, then the suburb, the shopping mall, and a mother at home with children driving her quietly or not so quietly crazy. Things change. Was the next significant shift the Era of Rights? Could we theorize that perhaps television and other mass communication platforms allowed for the Era of Rights, Civil, Women’s and Gay? Things change.
Maybe right now we’re seeing the Era of Self. Perhaps the many places for personae will challenge us to grow our selves via creative platforms all the while managing those selves more closely and more carefully.
Each of these big shifts have involved, if you think about it, how we access other people.