Identity in Flux: Navigating the Waters of the Digital

Certainly, as digital natives, it is likely that we’ve all participated in the practice of investigating our friend’s online profiles, perhaps seeking updates about their relationship status which they have been awfully quiet about these days. Other times we might find ourselves wondering whether the stories posted by a middle-school classmate are intended for the eyes of the privileged few or for the entire virtual world to witness. In these seemingly innocent moments, we assume the role of digital voyeur, sneakily examining the media persona’s of others as they unfold in the public sphere of the social. And, more often than not, these impressions of the often curated representations of themselves shape our opinion about the personality of that person.

This phenomenon illustrates the complete integration of social media into the relationships we form with others. The consencus held is that online relationships can often be juxtaposed with the ‘real world,’ whereas offline connection are frequently considered more genuine1. The virtual is commonly viewed as a world where facades are constructed, allowing for media personalities. The concept of a media personality has long existed, encompassing the realms of TV celebrities and influencers. However, I would argue that in the context of online presence and relationships, every single profile can essentially function as a media personality. Therefore, the performative nature of creating a social presence not only impacts the formation of our online identities but also, one could argue, undeniably shapes our offline personas. The presumed dichotomy between the online and offline sphere is increasingly fading as the social dimension forms an intrinsic part of one’s identity.

Moreover, the online world has become more significant and transformative in shaping our interactions with others. One of the concerns linked to this digital mode of interaction is the loss of authenticity. The netiquette once shaped by offline cultural and social norms have begun to fade within the online landscape, and one might even argue that this effects spills over into our offline interactions. This piece may appear to adopt a somewhat pessimistic perspective regarding the digital world, as it weights the potential disruptive effect of the internet in the formation of identities and the roles we assume while mediating these identities in our interactions with others.

Yet, I would argue that the distinction we traditionally compose of the online and offline realm can be reconsidered. The concept of a media persona can be viewed as a dynamic force that can affect the authentic self, blurring the lines between our online presence and reality. Moreover, the norms of social nettiquette have always undergone changes, and they will continue to adapt in response to the presence of the digital in our daily lives. In this context, the once clear division between online and offline may not hold the same relevance as it once did, especially considering the definitive role the digital world now plays in shaping our identities and interactions.

  1. Miller, Daniel, Elisabetta Costa, Nell Haynes, Tom McDonald, Razvan Nicolescu, Jolynna Sinanan, Juliano Spyer, Shriram Venkatraman, and Xinyuan Wang. “Online and Offline Relationships.” In How the World Changed Social Media, 1st ed., 1:100–113. UCL Press, 2016.