Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Little on Psychology

Ok, so here's a post to build upon my last two previous posts about how it is possible for multiple identities in the online world to find a semblance to a singular identity.

In response to my very helpful commenters, let me first say that I am not ignoring multiple identities on the internet. In the book "Born Digital," the authors state that the digital age allows a teen--and people in general--a greater opportunity for "experimentation and reinvention of identities" (20). However, while a digital native "can create multiple identities online with ease, she is more bound to a single identity than ever before" (34).

Why is that? If we are able to create multiple identities, why is a single identity not only possible, but almost certain? Isn't that impossible?

No, it's not impossible. It's a paradox. People are used to showing themselves in different lights based on different situations, or contexts. But with the internet, these different contexts can be linked together. Today, an onlooker is just able to SEE more of one person's multiple identities, which, in turn, helps them SEE a singular identity that perhaps would not have been possible without the digital age.

In my previous posts, I was fairly sure that this kind of meshing into one identity was desirable, maybe even intentional--maybe not for everyone, but for some. Now, with some of the more in-depth research I've done, the most I can say is this kind of singular identity formation is possible. And here's where the psychology comes in:

Patricia Wallace: She wrote a book called Psychology of the Internet, where she explicates the implications of the "ease with which people can experiment with identity on the net". In other words, yes, multiple identities are formed. BUT, Wallace did seem to think that people do not inherently use multiple identities just for fun--there was an end result of identity exploration. After all,
"MANY of these new identities may simply add a bit of polish or mystery to the self we already know in real life, and these experimental enhancements may lead to very positive consequences. Playing a person who is a little more outgoing and confident on a MUD, for example, could affect the individual's offline behavior, and there is much anecdotal evidence to support this."

To me, this quote does two things: 1) Acknowledges the existence of multiple/different identities, while also positing that most people do not use extremely different identities, and 2) States that in the face of multiple identity, tensions, a singular identity can be reached--one that is very much tied to reality.

Calvert: In a study on gender and identity on the internet, Sandra Calvert, a psychologyist with Georgetown, quoted Grotevant who stated that identity involved a "continuity...of self images." She also quotes Erikson, an American psychologyist, who stated that people tend to find and form a "unitary" sense of identity over time. These psychologist do not ignore the tension that multiple identities on the internet imply. Rather, they simply state that the multiple identity process is a very meaningful one because, over time, the aggregate of identities can be viewed as one singular identity.

Tomorrow, I want to maybe look a little at Freud. I don't know very much about his theories, exact for his famous id/ego/superego posits. But do the aggregate of these entities lead to a singular identity as well?

Now, I here's the last thing I want to say on the matter for today: I'm not sure there is a right or wrong answer. Perhaps the book Born Digital says it best:
"Some sociological theories suggest that young people have multiple selves; others argue that these multiple forms of representation come together into a more or less unitary self-constuct. The common thread among the many competing theories of identity is that people tend to have multiple self-representations...that together FORM A WHOLE."

The "whole" is what I'm interested in. I've learned it is not a "coherent" whole...but maybe it's a whole nonetheless.


  1. I posted a link to Diigo about a blog post from Mormon Feminist Housewives ( Comment number 10 seems to relate to your topic because this woman realizes that the anonymity of blogging has allowed her to form another identity and she wrestles with the ethical implications. She says "it concerns me that I’m too split." It doesn't necessarily add ideas to your argument but it is a real life example, so I hope it helps.

  2. Heather! Fantastic research, I'm very impressed with your extraction of many ideas all working for you! You might think of this (and you are in more or less words from what I can see) in terms of a puzzle. Each piece is unique and different from the others yet all come together to form the whole picture. Perfect example in Freud, three parts together forming a collective whole. The state of human is divided due to many factors not the least of which would be socialization. We need to categorize things so we can make reference to them separate from other things (ex. "the man is Chinese" separates "him" from another ethnicity and using the word "man" separates "him" from a "woman" as well as showing he shares the common characteristic of being a human). I hope this makes sense. We need to be divided so as to cater to the divided world in which we live. One person won't cut it any more because there are so many levels of what we can be. In our social fluid system, we learn to act and tune into different parts of ourselves to fit the occasion. The digital web, the whole being human expression, yet that expression manifests itself differently depending on the social forum. I don't have any articles, just those thoughts from my "brilliant" intellect which will one day be made into articles you can find on google scholar = P! Tell me what you think about my ideas and if they were helpful!...

  3. Okay, so I'm still looking for some kind of awesome study that proves that people inherently want to be true to their real identity online. I think something we missed when we were talking about this in class is that people don't necessarily want to reconcile their facebook account to their twitter account to their flickr account in the same way they want to reconcile their ethnic identity to their American (maybe?) identity, but they want to reconcile their online identity with their real identity, a "whole" that isn't cohesive but a sum of all their parts. That quote you found explains it best. People really want to adequately express who they really are, I think. A section of this article ( that I added to our Diigo group says that college students-digital natives, feel compelled to participate in social networking so that they can define their online identity. It's really interesting. I also think that this article ( which talks about the battle over domain names also proves that people want to adequately represent themselves online. Well, I hope this is helpful. I'm SO excited to read the finished product.