Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Digital Identities in America

Today in America there are a number of digital identities available. These identities can be personal, such as Facebook; professional with a LinkedIn account; or form a community based on similar interests, such as forums.

A Pew survey in September 2013 revealed that 73% of Americans above the age of 29 use social networking sites. 71% of those adults use Facebook. This shows that the majority of Americans have a digital identity. Looking at the breakdown of the statistics, it can be seen that social networking defies the boundaries of gender, race and income, as the the percentage of users are similar across all those categories. For future generations this could mean that those aspects of a person's identity will no longer matter, which could lead to less sexism, racism and classism. For a digital identity, these things do not matter, because they are physical. If a person does not want to present themselves as male, black, and rich, they can present a different identity and others do not have to know that they are lying. Therefore, I think they will become less important as identifiers. The only identity that will matter will be whether someone is online. Unfortunately, this could have effect on America's poor. If the poverty-stricken cannot afford internet, then there is a danger that they will be ostracised from the rest of the American community as they will not be able to be a part of it.

The only category which does not show similar results is the age category. 90% of 18-29 year olds use social networking, but only 46% of those over the age of 65 do. This ties in with Prensky's ideas of there existing a divide between "digital immigrants" and "digital natives", the "natives" being the young generation who have grown up with the internet as a  feature of their lives, and the "immigrants" people who have had to learn how to use it. Older people are less likely to have learnt, as it is akin to learning a new language, which can get more difficult as the brain ages. Presnky does worry that this will create an irreconcilable divide between the old and the young, as the older generation will not speak the "language" of the new generation. He sees this as something that will create a drastic change for the future of education in America. Prensky believes that the "digital natives" should be taught in a way that mirrors the working of the internet. For example, it should be recognised that they can concentrate whilst multitasking, that information should be delivered in a game-style format, and that graphics should be used more than text.

A concern among people who use social networking sites is that an identity they do not want might be created. Someone could post embarrassing pictures of them on Facebook, or hack their accounts and write offensive things under their name. Misuse of digital identity becomes more worrying when you consider that job searching and professional networking is starting to move online, through the use of sites such as LinkedIn. LinkedIn allows American to present a professional digital identity. A Lab42 survey found that 42% of LinkedIn users update their profile information regularly, and 37% update their profile picture regularly. This shows that whilst perhaps not as much of a feature as other sites in people's lives, a large number of Americans think it is important to keep their LinkedIn profiles up to date. As job hunting and networking increasingly becomes an online thing, as it might do in the future, identity theft should become a more serious issue. A digital identity depends more on trust than real-life identities do, because it is often the case that you will never meet the person you talk to online, so there is no way to verify whether what they tell you is the truth. Sites such as YouTube and Google are starting to recognise this need for verification and are asking for people to enter their full names in order to post a comment. However, there is as of yet no way to make sure that people are entering their real names.

Another reason for creating a digital identity is in order to form new communities based around shared interests or hobbies. Through the internet, people with similar interests can form a community without having to live close to one another. This aspect of the internet, as found by a Pew survey, is more important to Americans between 30-64 years olds, than it is to younger Americans. Younger Americans prefer to use the internet to keep in touch with friends they have already made. Therefore, the internet is useful for both creating new communities and strengthening established ones. Despite worry from "digital immigrants" that social networking might be breaking down the ability to form relationships, the Pew research found that in fact Facebook users are more likely to be trusting, form close relationships and revive old ones. This further suggests that "digital immigrants" do not understand the way "natives" function, which could cause problems in the future.

No comments:

Post a Comment