As a psychologist, I'm very interested in the concept of identity. I have studied it, written about it, and introspected (self questioned) on it and in particular, asked how identity can be manipulated in 'cyberspace'. This particular blog post is rooted in several others I posted in December, but notably two: 'It's only me' (which was about my Twitter and Flickr avatar @timbuckteeth) and 'The new Mii' which focused on 3D avatars such as those we create to represent ourselves when we play on the Nintendo Wii.
It all came to a head earlier this week when I mischieviously posted up on Ning that it was my birthday on 12 January (the same day the Digifolios and Personal learning Spaces online workshop kicked off). It wasn't my birthday though... mine is actually on June 16. As far as I know, only dear old Queen Elizabeth II has two birthdays (and presumably if there is a Queen Elizabeth III she will have 3 birthdays!). But I wasn't lying though. You see, January 12 is actually the day I created Timbuckteeth. And he is now two years old. So was it my birthday really? During his short little life, he has become a part of my online identity, and it has now got to the stage where not only do people address me as 'Mr T-B-T' online, I am also occasionally called 'Tim' by my f2f students. More than a dozen online friends wished 'me' a happy birthday on 12 January. I passed on the greetings to Tim of course.
The next day, when I came clean on Twitter about the birthday, Alexandra Grant-Paul (over in Canada - @AlexnWonderland) came up with a really interesting social question when she asked: How much ARE we our avatars?
Got me thinking it did. So I challenged her to write about it. She did, and her latest blog post 'Me and my avatar' is evidence of her thoughts. Alex poses some interesting questions and makes some amusing yet challenging comments about how we choose to represent ourselves to others, and how we are so good at changing our personae. It's well worth a read, and it'll get you thinking, I promise you.
So here's my closing comment: The social philosopher Erving Goffman (another Canadian!) proposed a theory of 'being' in which he likened us to actors on a stage (known popularly as the Dramaturgical model'). We manage our impressions most carefully, he claimed, when we are in our 'front stage' roles - that is, when we have an audience. This is in stark contrast to our behaviour when we are 'back stage', that is relaxed and with people we feel more comfortable with. Then we can be our true selves. In our front stage roles, we are subject to costumes, scripts, props, etc., but in our back stage roles, we can truly be ourselves.
But are we not also ourselves when we are front stage? Just a different version of the self? And when I create an avatar to 'represent' me, does the avatar change me? Or diminish me? Or enhance me.... when I am online? How much of 'me' is actually invested in the avatar? And finally, how much is my impression actually able to be managed by my avatar, when other people encounter 'him' in cyberspace. Your comments in the comments box below please (Open ID of course!)
(Image source: Rosemountgroup.com)