Seeking Your True Self in the Virtual World

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The question of identity has always been a central theme for many, in particular the youth. Today, as we enter a new age of Internet technology, the quest for defining oneself has shifted online. While many, especially the younger generation, embrace the liberation that digital communities offer, others are apprehensive of the dangers that lurk in the virtual world. The anxiety is not entirely unjustified. Nevertheless, the truth is the benefits that accompany online communities far outweigh its drawbacks. According to Daniel Chandler, author of “Identities under Construction”, and Danah Boyd, an American researcher known for her works on social network sites, online tools such as personal home page and MySpace are efficacious instruments which empower its users to create virtual identities and socialize with friends, family, and like-minded individuals.

Online communities have open up a new dimension of identity exploration and relationship building that is otherwise impossible in real life. Oddly, the seemingly distanced and impersonal medium encourages people to be more candid and truthful than they normally would. Things that one might left unsaid in real life are openly discussed in the digital world, thus providing a somewhat more truthful representation of one’s multifaceted nature.

Online community is commonly used to refer to a network of people interacting by means of Internet Web sites, email, chat rooms, forums, and other online applications. Examples of online communities include MySpace (Boyd, 2006) and a network of personal home pages connected through hyperlinks (Chandler, 2004).

Surfers Beware!
Before looking into how are digital communities is beneficial to us, we must first acknowledge the dark side of digital networks. Cyberspace, due to its anonymity nature, is a constant concern for adults, especially parents. Teens falling preys to people with malicious intents are dreaded nightmare for many parents. Just like the real world, the Internet is not without its fair share of dangers. Conceal with constructed persona, it can be difficult to tell apart online predators. Boyd addresses such “moral panics” (Boyd, 2006) by stating that the media is making a mountain out of a molehill in overemphasizing on a few cases of youth being victimized by predators and bullying. Though potential risks are not to be overlooked entirely, the focus should be on exploring the potential and opportunities of identity production and socialization on the Web.

The Projection of Self
The use of fashion accessories, as well as body and verbal language to consciously create messages of who we really are is an everyday example of identity production, Boyd explains. Just as in real life, identity production is equally dynamic on the Web. Instead of consumer products, virtual identities are established by utilizing information, language, and images.

“Bricolage” is defined as the act of “adopting and adapting borrowed materials from public domain of the Web in the process of fashioning personal and public identities” (Chandler, 2004). Chandler discusses that personal home page authors engaging in “bricolage” can divulge underlying values that they possess. The deliberate inclusion and exclusion of certain elements typically signify certain aspects that the author might want to covey either openly or subtly. Chandler provides an example of a home page author who expresses his gay identity through the pinkish-purple background of his site, but eludes the issue entirely in the contents of the Web pages.

Possibly the most important element is the content which authors include in home pages and profiles. It is essentially a proclamation of who they really are to anyone who might be concerned. The content generally includes biographical information, values, interests, social circle and anything that is significant to the owner. Even though everyone practice selective disclosure when presenting themselves on the Web,...
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