American Studies Blog: Digital Identities
Write a post illustrating and analysing the various digital identities available to Americans today. What can this tell us about the meaning of identity for American in the future?
According to Philip J. Windley, a digital identity ‘is the data that uniquely describes a person or a thing and contains information about the subject’s relationships’. This suggest that in theory any action by individuals during their use of the internet constitutes the creation in some part of their digital identity. In this context, the latest Pew report's assertion that over 87% of Americans use the internet suggests that exactly the same number of people also possess a digital identity, regardless of whether they are aware of this or not. However, when discussing digital identity there’s a need to recognize that it can broadly be broken down into two types 1) Online Identity/Social Media that a person consciously and deliberately construct, and which may be true or false; and 2) An identity that is constructed by corporations based on information they track about individuals. In addition, there is also a need to recognize that one's online identity consists of the following features: 1) A Public Identity i.e. the things about yourself you are happy to let everyone know and 2) A Private identity - things about yourself you choose to share with few or any other people.
Any discussion of digital identities needs to try to answer several questions: to what extent are such identities representative of one’s identity in real life?; how much of a creation are they of the individual?; and finally, what of the problem of identity theft and the development of fake digital identities online? It is obviously possible that a person's digital identity can be manipulated by others in a variety of ways, ranging from something as simple as a photograph being posted online without the individual's knowledge, to hackers accessing someone's information and spreading it online. In addition, it can be said that the creation of a digital identity is influenced by the interface individuals have with websites such as Facebook; this has been studied by academics such as Joanne Garde-Hansen. In light of this, it seems absurd that an article in Forbes Magazine commented on how prospective employers have started to examine Facebook profiles as a means to establish who someone is as a person. Clearly, digital identities are inherently unstable and easily manipulated, so it makes no sense whatsoever for employers to judge people based on such information.
What we can learn about the development of digital identities from the study of the rise of digital natives and digital immigrants written by Marc Prensky is that the meaning of identity in America is most likely going to change drastically, with the majority American population possessing both an physical identity and digital identity, and that people will have a real struggle trying to reconcile these two into a single identity.