In a recent Tech621 Social Internet class, we talks about concepts and issues related to online identity, self-presentation, impression management, etc.
1. One big name to mention when we talk about identity performance is E. Goffman. Goffman’s book “The Presentation of Self” was written in 1959, but it is still worth to consider even when we talk about online identity management nowadays. However, when we consider things online, modification of the theory might be needed since the situation and conditions change.
One major concept in Goffman’s theory is front-stage and back-stage since the theory is based on the metaphor of theater, drama, and performance. Front-stage and back-stage are not versions of self, they are different social contexts and situations. The social contexts are time and space bounded, which makes it easier for the actors to adapt to the audience. The adaption to the audience is impression management. In general, back-stage requires less effort of impression management than the front-stage.
There are usually several layers of front-stage and back-stage, which I would like to call the relativity of front-stage and back-stage. Compared with your professional work, your professional blog, Facebook might be considered as back-stage, however, compared with your personal life with your significant others, your roommates and friends, Facebook can be considered as front-stage. On Facebook, you still have to create something, craft an identity to impress people. There is impression management in the process.
Going to a party can be the front-stage, even if it’s casual, and belongs to your personal entertainment life. Just because it’s informal and fun, doesn’t mean it’s back-stage. When you spend time to do the make-up and pick up dresses and shoes, you are crafting your identity to impress others. Your identity is engineered, and you do a lot of work on the performance.
I also think about front-stage and back-stage at the group level, though Goffman’s theory is mostly at the individual level. We as a group, during a classroom discussion, it can be considered as back-stage for the group. When we discuss publicly on Twitter, that the front-stage for the group. However, both the situations can be considered as front-stage for the individuals. It maybe helpful for my own research to consider the identity management of individual during online collaboration and the identity management for a group as a community.
2. Where the “self” comes from?
“You only know yourself from what other people tell you”–George Herbert Mead. George Herbert Mead is the creator of the theory of Symbolic Interactionism: a theory about how the self comes to be. It is through meaningful interactions with others. You see yourself in other people’s eyes (looking-glass (mirror) self), then you internalize that image and become that. Watching TV is a form of symbolic interaction. It’s kind of one way, but it’s symbolic interaction. So watching TV could influence what kind of person you become.
One major concept in symbolic interactionism is the action self “I” and the reflective audience self “Me”. There is a continuous negotiation between I and Me. “I” is natural and impulsive and “Me” is more socialized and adaptive. When you are a child, you are natural. As you grow up, you learn how to control your impulses and how to behave in and adapt to different social contexts. “Me” is monitoring “I”.
When we perform, we think about how other people will think about us, here the “other people” is generalized other. It’s a concept of ourselves, it’s our perception of others, it’s inside, not outside.
3. What happens when will move things online?
When we move things online, the contexts change. The line between front-stage and back-stage become much softer and blurry. Sometimes, the line is just our perception. Also the time and space boundaries have gone, which makes identity management much more difficult. The filtering of audience doesn’t happen at the senders’ side, it goes to the receivers’ side.
The evaluation standard of online identity management varies. If your goal is to find a job, then the evaluation standard might be whether your online image has played a positive role in your job hunting process. We have to keep in mind that, the goal of online identity management is not always to impress your future employers, you management your identity for all kinds of audiences, although to impress future employers is often the case for college students.
4. For my own work:
As I mentioned above, it maybe helpful for me to consider identity management of individual during collaboration and the group identity definition and management as a community, since my work is related to collaborated tagging in academia and crowdsourcing.
5. For my own online identity management:
I should be careful when talk about sensitive political topics. Also, maybe I shouldn’t talk too much about my stress and too much about my “dark” inner thoughts? The online platform should become an exhibition where I show my professional work, my brilliant thoughts (maybe not that much brilliant sometimes:), and a little bit hint of my personal hobbies such as cooking, sports, music, etc.