Portal:Digital Identity

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What is Digital Identity?

Digital media affords individuals with new ways of expressing, exploring, and asserting their identity. For natives, who are immersed and fluent in these technologies, while finding themselves in a key stage of identity development, these new identity-forming activities present exciting possibilities. However, it is important to take a hard look at these activities, and how they are changing the ways people express and understand both themselves and others within the larger social context. There exist important issues for discussion in looking at how Digital Natives make use of emerging digital media tools available to them as they form identities both on and off line.

Technological Architectures

The spaces in which individuals connect on the Internet, as well as through other technologies such as mobile phones and networked gaming consuls, each have their own particular architectures. They are built with specific allowances and capabilities, in attempt to dictate the forms and types of interactions that take place within those spaces. Like any space, these configurations can be re-interpreted and re-inscribed by creative users (who almost always find ways to bend - or break - the rules), but nevertheless, a particular mode of communication and connection evolves for each new technology that catches our attention, and enables connection.

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Records of Identity

In the age of digital media, identity assertions are no longer purely transient, exploratory exercises. For the most part, digital expressions of identity are here to stay, as at least somewhat permanent markers that remain visible for both creators, and others, to see. Even the deleted blog, or photo posted on the social network, may be saved in cache, or downloaded on some hard drive out there.

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Sharing Secrets on the World Wide Web

Digital Natives are at home on the Internet. Whether ‘hanging out’ on MySpace (see Danah Boyd's "Identity Production in a Networked Culture: Why Youth Heart MySpace" (2006)), organizing and discussing events on Facebook, commenting on each others’ photos on Facebook, watching acquaintances football games, video diaries, or dance routines on YouTube, or spilling their heart out on countless blog services, Natives are expressing, sharing, talking – and shaping, presenting and developing personal identities – in all types of spaces online. How aware are Digital Natives that these spaces they often view as 'safe' are actually very public spaces? How aware are they of the potential consequences?

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Blogging: Finding Identity and the Courage to Share

Teens use communication channels on the internet to broaden their circle of friends to include both real and virtual friends. In creating blogs, they share in writing thoughts about themselves, as well as comments about others, and the world around them. Beyond strictly blogging, the page design and links they include are also indirect expressions of the self (Papacharissi 2002). This points to a digital opportunity - beyond the technical/ design skills being learned, teens are learning to express abstract ideas (in this case the self) through visual appearance, design, and affiliations.

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Asserting Identity with the Mobile Media

The Digital Native is constantly connected. To be constantly connected is to have continual access to your friends, to your chosen information, to your creative outlet…it also means that ‘digital information explosion’ (the ever-faster growing amount of published information available) and 'Digital Information Overload' (defined on wikipedia as ‘the state of having too much information to make a decision or remained informed about a topic,’] is always in your face. The information explosion surrounds, shoving the native simultaneously in different directions, making it hard to stand ground as ‘yourself’ – especially when at times it’s impossible to even hear yourself think.

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Narratives

OMG,” Elizabeth thumbs into her cell phone’s miniature keyboard. “He’s soooo cute.” Send.

Perched in a windowsill high above the city, Elizabeth coos over her new nephew. “What a peanut!”

Elizabeth’s sister smiles from the hospital bed. Andy’s not even a day old, still wrapped tightly in the ward’s white-and-blue swaddling blanket, his tiny facing peeking out from his mother’s arms.

Elizabeth points the cell at Andy and peers through the viewfinder. The baby screws up his already crinkled face. She clicks a photo with the built-in camera, which makes the sound of an old-fashioned camera shutter, for no good reason. Send.

“Must already be the most photographed baby of all time,” her sister laughs. “You should have seen mom. You’d think she’s never seen a baby before. Her poor friends. They’ve probably all exceeded the quota on their AOL inboxes from all her endless e-mails. She’s never learned how to avoid sending pictures as enormo attachments.”

Elizabeth takes Andy’s tiny hand. She runs her finger over the plastic bracelet he wears. “Cohen, Baby Boy,” it reads, along with a bunch of other data that a nurse entered into a computer kiosk somewhere. Time of birth, mom’s name, a unique identifier, and so forth.

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Problems

  • Do digital technologies facilitate escapist behaviour?

Consider, in the case of the Mp3 player, the comment of Keisha, a twenty-year-old college student:

I use [my Mp3 player] everyday. I have the remote for it, so I lie in bed, and press play, and it comes on in the morning. And then when I walk to school, I use it to walk to school, and then, walking home, and I also have it on as background when I’m cleaning or something… I fall asleep listening to it through my speakers…I don’t like silence…I like to have something going on constantly, I think I might just sit there and think, and if I think too much, ahh, I don’t like it, I just like to get on with things.

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Solutions

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