Digital pervasion and loss of identity

This is a continuation of yesterday's post entitled: Always connected.

“We are all digital now” claims Paul Longley of University College London, in a research report (BBC News, 2006). In so doing, he identifies a global digital tribe. Taking into account the fact that much of the world’s population is more than a day’s walking distance from a fixed line telephone, and even allowing for the growing trend toward mobile phone usage in developing countries, or the paucity of computers in the third world, Longley’s claim could be considered contentious. However, where applied to western industrialised nations, it musters some credibility. There is none the less a need to acknowledge the digital divides that are perpetuated wherever technology is applied. Interestingly, Longley’s claim may hold some truth when contextualised in a world where cable and satellite television channels proliferate, digital mobile communication becomes ever more pervasive, surveillance of civil movement and activity is automated, and where digital identification of individuals, commodities and services is becoming common place. The location of a global digital tribe within this landscape is a feature of interest for this chapter.

Longley’s research team identified digital tribes by their socio-economic activities and by the manner in which they used information and communication technologies. Yet there are more subtle distinctions that can be made, particularly at the perceptual and motivational levels of analysis.

There is an argument that due to the process of globalisation, national boundaries (and therefore tribal boundaries) have been eroded to the point that we are amalgamating into a homogenous mass of humanity, and where the last vestiges of tribal identity are vanishing. In essence, the forces of globalisation have amalgamated us all into one tribe. We are living in a ‘corporate age’ runs the argument, in which all of our decisions are being dictated by ‘those who have the real power’. Therefore, wherever I travel, I can find the same fast food outlets, and the same familiar chain stores where I can purchase clothing and footwear I will be comfortable wearing. I can blend into the background because I am wearing a similar style of clothing to the hundreds of other people milling around in the high street, and I will not be conspicuous, because I am eating the same food and drinking from an identical soft drink can as the natives. Have I therefore blended in to such an extent into the local culture that I lose my identity? No, my individual identity remains intact, whilst my individualism is subsumed into the social melange within which I am located. Identity and individualism are not synonymous, even though there are obvious commonalities. The identity argument may break down when it is applied to the formation of a single ‘digital tribe’, but clearly there are many personal identities represented within the tribe. It is quite possible then, that there is in fact one ‘digital tribe’ in the broadest sense of its meaning, but there are many sub-sets of this large digital tribe – what we can term ‘virtual clans’.

Tomorrow: Virtual Clans


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