Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Digital Identity

Over the last decade, Digital Identity has become a more prominent way of defining Americans, as the influx and constant adaptation of technology continues. The United States of America is the country that is leading the way in this digital new age, with companies such as Facebook, Youtube and Google all originating from there. However there is a worry, especially from ‘Digital immigrants,’ that this reliance on technology is unhealthy for the future generations of Americans.

You only have to look as far as the amount of worldwide users there are on these networks: with Facebook attracting 1.23 billion people, iTunes 500 million and Twitter 243 million. Obviously this includes other nations in its scope, however the USA is the largest contributor of users to these sites, with more than 40% Americans using Facebook everyday. As it is a fairly recent phenomenom, social media is a system that attracts young people, therefore it is clear that the main users of social networking are younger Americans, or ‘Digital Natives’ (those who have been brought up with computers as an essential part of their lives), suggesting that the future of America and American citizens will continue to be broadcast online. When you consider that Facebook is a company that hasn’t even been active for a decade (it was launched in 2005), the speed in which it has accelerated into an essential part of day to day activity suggests that this will continue to increase over the next few years.

For a country as vast and diverse as the US, social media does help to establish a more unified identity. Over the past few weeks of the course, we have studied the tensions between black and white, male and female, rich poor; however, America’s presence online is not governed by these identities. John Perry Barlow wrote in his 1996 Declaration of Cyberspace Freedom that “we cannot obtain order by physical coercion,” something that I believe to be true, as you are physically hidden on the Internet and protected behind a screen. It is a great benefactor to the US that someone in Maine can have an uninterrupted conversation with someone in Hawaii, when this distance would previously have been a huge inconvenience. The freedom and equality that is available to Americans online, seems to be the only place where physical, gender or sexual identity is not important; they can in fact, simply be one American talking to another.

The worry in this is that a reliance on technology and the Internet can only go so far before the next generations of Americans become addicted and overly dependent on it. The future of America would appear to be driven by technology and there is a worry that the identity of Americans will be determined by machine over mind. In an article in The Atlantic, observations of American children concluded that they would rather be indoors staring at a screen, whether it be a television, a phone, an iPad etc, rather than outdoors socializing with other children. According to the article 90% of American parents believe that some good can come from the usage of smart technology from an early age and by 2010, two-thirds of American children had used a touch screen device between the ages of 4 to 7.
Whilst there has been an emphasis on learning on apps and websites, there is a risk that the next generation of Americans will have grown up without sufficient interaction with other people their age. Along with the ability to do educational course online and work from home online, there is a possible prospect of a human being going through life believing that they do not need to physically interact with other people when they can get everything they need through a computer. This proposes a worrying new American identity that has been named “the zombie effect,” where people can essentially switch off from reality, and through the use of a screen, live their lives online.

This is one of the more radical ideas of a Digital identity, but one that is not inconceivable when you consider that acceleration of modern technology and the dependence that this generation, and the next, will have on it.


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