May 18, 2007
Web 2.0 and the Maintenance of Identity

To draw on one more interesting perspective in relation to online fandom, and especially to the previous post about Surya Yalamanchili's post on fan types based from his own observations from The Apprentice, I was intrigued by some recent thoughts from C3 Affiliated Faculty Grant McCracken, who writes about the maintenance of online identity.

He writes particularly about transparency in online identity, as well as the ironic cloudiness of a person that results. He writes about the proliferation of public information that people are making willingly available in the current age that, "The issue here should not be restricted to the intellectual's traditional lamentation that old categories are at risk. The issue is to ask what might happen to identity and human nature in the new regime."

Grant is responding to a piece from The BBC's Bill Thompson earlier this week about the maintenance of online identity. After going into great detail about the large number of online communities he is part of, Thompson writes, "Until now my online presence has been carefully managed and controlled, and although you can find out anything you care to ask about my views, politics, lack of religious belief and opinions on technology and the internet the persona that emerges from the last twenty years of online activity keep as much hidden as it reveals."

He contends that the newest tools make his friend network, minute details about his schedule, etc. He writes, "Our modern conception of privacy and of the nature of the individual is a product of the industrial age that is now passing, so it should not surprise us that we are finding new ways of constructing an identity online."

McCracken points out the apropos turn of phrase at the end of the piece, in which Tompson writes, "I am finding a new way to be Bill Thompson. I wonder what he'll be like."

I've written before about how these new technologies are transforming the way one presents the self, and also about the shrinking distance between producer and consumer.

Also, see my November post on the confusing world of social networking, based on John Schqartz' piece in The New York Times.



I think that the transparency/cloudiness debate can only take us so far here. Identity has always been constructed, but there hasn't been any radical shift in what we consider part of our inner self and part of our public persona since the industrial revolution forced a reassessment of the boundary between home and work. Things are changing, and I'm willing to embrace this, even though it does frighten and worry me :-)


Hey Bill, and thanks for the note. I would say that there are certain ways that managing your "self" is changing, since these sites involve a lot of interesting blends of public/private. But I also think there is danger in overstating these changes.

More than anything else, the length of time social ties stay with you are changing. In a world of MySpace and Facebook, old friendships or acquaintances are not so easy to shake, and I know a lot of minute details of the lives of high school acquaintances who I haven't seen in six or eight years.