On Our Online & Offline Identities

The pace of psychological science has not kept up with the pace of technological progress, leading to a whole slew of issues surrounding our so-called online identities.If you follow psychology as far as it flows into mainstream media, you must have observed the studies surrounding online addiction, marriages, suicidal behavior, and so on. But, most of these focus on extremities, and the numerous surveys and research studies don’t address what the rest of the 99% are going through. Yes, many of us feel a conflict as our digital personae become as or more pervasive as our real ones were never destined to be.

It is a conflict that needs deeper study.

Even in our real lives, we struggle to understand our real self. This illustrates the situation pretty well:

(I am not sure where this abstraction comes from – Carl Rogers comes close)

In essence, we are neither who we think we are, nor are we what others think we are. Our real “self” is embedded in some shadow. Discovering this – our “real self” – is the magic that has spawned generations of godmen and mystics. This quest for the search of our true “identity” has continued for centuries.

What happens when you introduce the online world? This:

The quest for identity has gotten much, much more difficult thanks to the Internet. We are no longer just real human beings living in real lives, visible to sound, sight, and touch – we are now a Twitter persona, a Facebook persona, a Google Plus persona, and so on.

These online accounts are identities in themselves. Whether one chooses to associate these online identities with one’s real identity is an individual’s choice. (There are over 7 billion people on this planet.) But many do, and when they do, there is possibility of conflict. Online and Offline collide in ways one had never thought of before. Yes, they often do, just like this.

How does it look when your online persona is very different from what you really are?

The more different you are online than in your real life, the more stress you feel.

Some people are true to themselves to such an extent that their real life identities match closely with their online identities.

These are folks who experience harmony, with their digital and real self entwined together.

Another way to think about this:

No wonder millions of people are trying to solve the puzzle.

I am not offering any solution to the possible conflicts, merely trying to gain some insight. Please do share your thoughts in comments!

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  • great read!

  • Thank you!

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  • People are different personalities be it on our own, with someone else, with family, with friends, on line, off line. Good article, thought provoking. 

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    Divya Bhaskar


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  • Very interesting approach on social identity!

  • not sure if online world is meant to compliment, complete or complicate oneself ! But yeah, soon we will read books or perhaps mac-books such as 7 Habits of Highly Successful Online People !!

  • Paul B.

    This is such a poignant question, especially one that young people are engaged in constantly.  I’m not sure they are conscious of the stress they are putting on themselves maintaining all of their identities, and most kids I know wouldn’t think of withdrawing from their online lives.  I love the theme of your blog, as I am a high school teacher of digital media but also a restrained technology user.  I’ve recently relaunched my own blog–check it out!  http://www.mindfulstew.wordpress.com.  

  • O_o

  • Blogenis Blog

    makes me think…………..!!

  • Nice. I like the Sienfeld comparator.

  • Thank you 🙂

  • AndreaRavenet

    We’re also fascinated by the “mask of persona” people cultivate online, typically out of a desire to project —or protect— an image. So, we built the new social Twitter discovery game, Mind of Man, to lift the mask of persona by revealing how the world sees your personality online. It creates a unique graphical avatar called a MindPrint, a graphical QR code that reflects your top personality traits, moods & behaviors online. It drives the game experience in Mind of Man, and soon, in other games, as well. Unlike standard QR codes, a MindPrint is readable by the human eye.
    You should check out Mind of Man’s biting commentary on the state of Digital Privacy. The ‘voice’ of MOM is definitely Orwellian (no coincidence) and is a nod and a wink at the privacy issues that haunt –or at least, should haunt– social media consumers everywhere.
    Here’s the trailer:

    More, about Mind of Man at http://www.mindofman.com