I’ve been spending a lot of time lately looking what identity is. In fact, the past fifteen years have been spent surveying some aspect of it. When you are studying a subject, you often notice new, similar instances of it in life. Over time, I have noticed lots of different ways that people see identity in general and how much control they feel they have over their identity.
I was initially interested in the musical identity people took on and did a little research around this. This showed that although people thought they were choosing their look and musical expression, it was heavily influenced by marketing and fashion trends. Then I moved onto health identity, the deep and wide chasm of identity politics. Everywhere I looked there was an aspect of identity, yet it was always wrapped up in a blanket of trend or purpose. By this I mean what is popular in terms of the word ‘identity’ is usually something that someone, somewhere wants to influence others through or worse, to stereotype.
So, is identity a kind of portal where we can act like some kind of pose-able Barbie or Action Man in order to conform or influence? Kind of. We certainly perform various identities and use these to influence our everyday life. Even so, the world acts back on us, so our identity roles are never as clear cut as they seem. Additionally, although we often associate our identity with how we look, that really is only a tiny part of the story. So we are much more than Barbie and Action Man as we are fluid and flexible in both movement and thinking.
At the moment there is a huge focus on internet identity. Problems and dilemmas with social networking sites have thrust this to the forefront and several writers have begun to include this in their work. Two examples of this are Della says: OMG by Keris Stainton and Joanne Harris’ blueyedboy
As I haven’t read either of these books yet this isn’t a book review. I wanted to write about the marketing of books in relation to online identity and the part this plays is normalising aspects of identity before I read these books and became influenced by the plots and characters. The fact that these two books are in very different genre’s and are dealing directly with the ways that people interact on forums and social networking sites tells us a lot about how entrenched online identity is in society.
Keris Stainton’s debut novel deals with teenagers and the way they network digitally, and the problems this can cause. The book is bound to resonate with the hoards of teenagers who flock to Facebook and Bebo and My Space to live out an embellished identity online. Joanne Harris’ novel deals with the darker side of identity construction online, as a man lives out his murderous fantasies about his mother online. Look out for reviews of both these novels on this blog soon.
Both these authors have clearly identified a major hook in society today and written about an aspect of the self that will appeal to the majority of us. There are still many people who profess not to use social networking sites, and this may be true. In a piece of research I conducted recently on social networking several people mentioned the words ‘fear’ and ‘paranoia’ in regard to online identities and felt that social networking was somehow tied in with ‘identity theft’. Of course it is in general, but the tone of these narratives were of lack of control over online identity. What we put on our profile is what is facing outwards to the external world; we can control this. So, is this perceived lack of control over online identity mirroring uncertainty about identity itself? Do we know what it really is?
With novels about online identity hitting the shelves more and more, the normalisation of what was once something for geeks is almost complete. This new phenomenon, that we would never have dreamed of writing about ten years ago unless it was science fiction, has come to life. But is online identity an opportunity to extend our personality in ways we cannot offline or just another identity portal, like music and fashion where our existing preferences and fears can be played out? You decide.