Posted by: gregboyko | March 12, 2009

Your digital life and the concept of online personas

Joe Wilcox over at Microsoft Watch recently posted a fascinating article on the topic of our digital identities and how we manage them, or rather how we might like to manage them, but are unable to do so because of the technological limitations of the services we use.

Joe’s claim is that we all have different personas, both in real life and online. In real life it is easy to choose what aspects we share based on the social context. Online it is much more difficult.

There are a couple of very interesting insights in Joe’s article. First is the need for a single digital identity. The idea has been around for a while, but no one has made it a reality, partly because of the lack of standardization, and partly because of the critical missing piece Joe mentions next: the concept of digital personas, separate from identity. Traditionally, separate personas have been maintained online through the use of different handles/nicks (identities). But with social networking services such as Facebook playing such an important role in so many people’s lives today, and with the line between real life and digital life blurring, this isn’t really practical anymore. There is a desire for a single identity. You still want to be you (identity) regardless of the social context, but you may wish to share only certain aspects of your digital life (persona) depending on the context.

Clearly we all have different personas, both in real life and online. Behavior should depend on social context. But there’s also something to be said about personas that are so far removed from each other that they conflict. We’ve all heard stories about people losing their jobs or getting disciplined in school for something they said online or for a picture they posted on Facebook or MySpace. Typically, this occurs in situations where the online persona is so at odds with the real-life persona in that particular context (e.g. work) that the conflict is irreconcilable. While Joe’s concept of digital personas might help people who fall into this category, I think it’s rather unhealthy to be in this category in the first place.

Give Joe’s article a read. It’s really quite good.

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