Exploring Digital Identity

Exploring Digital Identity is a video that I prepared for a class I am taking on Digital Culture. The ultimate purpose of the video was to represent my digital identity. No clip or image goes back further than 2012, so the footage is relatively recent, examining my adult digital life. But even considering the narrow time-frame, I think my video actually represents the entirety of my digital life in perhaps subtle and concealed ways.

As a fairly standard project, I used Windows Live Movie Maker to create this “digital photo essay.” One of my goals was to emphasize cinematography and aesthetics (all my years of watching art films must have rubbed off on me). Therefore, I used black and white visuals, and manipulated the speed and duration of videos and slides. However, the opening to the video was not how I intended it, and I did not have time to do another take. For the beginning of the video, I decided to shoot outdoors when it was snowing, because I thought the snowfall would add a nice natural layer. So I set my camera in a cardboard box to keep it from getting wet. My goal, of course, was to take footage without the cardboard appearing! This I failed to do. Furthermore, I wanted a lengthy take – à la Tarkovsky perhaps? – that slowly panned onto my face. But the software proved incapable of applying zoom to video. I also wanted a blurry image that gradually came into focus and met my glance. As can be seen, the whole endeavor was botched.

As for rhetorical literacy and substance, I drew on class readings to try and establish a definition between identity and digital identity, neatly fitting myself into the larger picture of how people use New Media to construct their identities. I tried to gradually move away from the whole idea of a “microcelebrity” to emphasize the difference between artificial and natural ways of being; a philosophical binary that interests me greatly. At this juncture in the video, I share my personal feelings toward the subject, in an effort to establish pathos. Images from the happiest moments of my life are punctuated by the music, reinforcing the main point of my video. Finally, my intention was for everything to come full-circle, with the 6:13 mark sort of serving as a “plot twist” to how the narrative began.

Overall, I guess it could have been worse for a first time production…


Theresa Senft coined the term “microcelebrity” in 2009 to illustrate a typical manifestation of digital identity on the Internet. It has become an increasingly prevalent idea that having a digital presence on the Web can be useful or even necessary. For instance, Senft gives the example of self-branding; promoting your skills and abilities online for the purposes of market exposure and gaining a competitive edge in the workforce. In order to be successful, the theory goes, one must have a carefully-crafted microcelebrity, as many industries are seizing upon business-oriented social networks to expand their reach. Also, there is the importance of having a “clean” digital identity, as employers are liable to perform Internet searches on you to determine your character and etiquette (never mind your skills). Because of this potential leverage, it is important to remember that privacy is easily overlooked in today’s social sphere. In fact, privacy may be negated altogether in some cases. Indeed, social media has always encouraged users to engage socially with one another. But when sharing updates, interests, and “Likes” for the benefit of a close group of friends, seldom do users realize that there are others watching. This sort of plebeian surveillance reinforces the idea that in order to act responsibly with New Media structures of social engagement, one should behave online as if they were on stage, performing for a larger audience. Of course, this advice from Senft is reminiscent of the traditional social theory of Erving Goffman, who was known for his dramaturgical analysis. Goffman maintained that, in everyday situations, we try to perform roles that will grant us social acceptance. As if on stage, individuals are “actors” trying to gain a favorable response from their “audience.”

Of course, maintaining a place “on stage” is only part of microcelebrity. Senft notes that as individuals gain abilities and take on new modes of expression, their digital identities evolve. Indeed, socializing online is just one aspect to digital identity. But as individuals find different ways to interact and transact online, something new happens. We begin to divide our attention between our multiple digital identities. Likewise, we begin to command a presence on multiple stages. For instance, one is likely to have a different identity on Facebook than they do on LinkedIn. This is only natural, as the former site encourages informal interaction, while the latter site encourages formal interaction. It is true also that we deliberately filter our behaviors in those physical spaces of work or play. But having to negotiate the privacy settings of a looming corporate third party is a lot more distracting…

There is also always that inkling to make yourself look perfect or “normal” for employers, family, friends, love interests, etc. It’s usually a harder game to play for younger people, as they are still trying to figure out their values and belief systems. But there always remains that lure to engage in identity construction online: “If I tweak this here, or tweak that there, I’ll stand a better chance of being noticed, hired, etc.” Or not noticed or hired, as the case may be. The point is, the more you tinker with your digital identity, the more likely you are to be distancing yourself from your real identity, which is always biologically rooted. Since I can’t seem to explain adequately right now, I’ll put it in Senft’s words: “”theories of naming” have been invaluable in staunching naïve (and often industry-driven) optimism that one can be “anything” online, regardless of psychological, sociological, and political realities offline.”


5 thoughts on “Exploring Digital Identity

  1. Hi Jason! You’ve done it again…interesting words, interesting thoughts, and the digital images worked very well, even though they did not live up to what you had pictured in your head and explained with your words. I blinked and missed the statement right after Sigmund’s image. I agree with you–I, too, prefer the real world to the digital world. However, one thing that may be easy to forget in our current digital lives is how difficult it was years ago to bring forth the kind of work you just displayed for so many to read and view in such a short section of real time.

  2. Digital Culture: A Retrospective – Digital Téchnē

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