The Online Offline Dichotomy of Identity

Today, we don’t live in singular world where we find ourselves in one place. Instead, we often find ourselves living in a dichotomy, between the “real world” and the “technological world”. We find ourselves constantly comparing our lives online, the way we act via social media, versus the lives we are truly physically living. In Sherry Turkle’s work, especially in Alone Together (2011), Turkle argues that our true interactions and relationships are being abandoned because of the digital platforms that have become such a large part of our lives. She argues that our culture is drastically changing due to technology, and that is it changing for the worse. She believes that individuals are becoming more narcissistic and less responsible for themselves and others.

In Nathan Jurgenson’s work, Jurgenson argues that our technological lives are not changing our real lives, but perhaps our lives are now composed of both our online life and our real life in the digital age we now live in. Jurgenson believes that we are “fetishizing” the real world; that now that we have been told that we live in two separate worlds, people believe that we cannot let technology take over our lives, so to speak. Through such a dichotomy that our society has created, we have begun to see face-to-face communication as something “special”. Jurgenson argues that we cannot get offline. Technology is not only constantly surrounding us, but also is now a part of how we think about the things around and the ways in which we find appropriate to communicate. It is not another life, in fact it is a piece of our “real” lives we are living”. He believes that technology is just another way of being a social human being.

In understanding both Sherry Turkle and Nathan Jurgenson’s perspectives on the online dichotomy, I able to relates to both of their perspectives. In living in a world in which I have access to online communication, I can understand the points in which Sherry Turkle argues that our culture has changed. Our perspective of human interaction has definitely changed. We also have become very reliant on such technologies. We have every person we could need to speak to on speed-dial, and we can find any information we want at any moment. I definitely find that I have become attached to such technology, especially in that I can connect with my friends and family right away. I personally find that I feel the need to communicate and ask for advice from others, and need it instantly. I can understand Sherry Turkle’s perspective that we have become quite un-independent, but I do not follow her in her beliefs that we have become narcissistic through such circumstances. When looking at Turkle’s perspective of narcissism, I find it hard to believe that solely technology is affecting the ways in which people treat each other. Instead, I believe it is something that technology allows us to do, so we choose to. It is something we do not have to be constructed to follow.

Instead, I can connect more with Nathan Jurgenson’s work on the online offline dichotomy. As Turkle mentioned, our culture has changed. But I agree with Jurgenson in that our technological lives are not independent of our every day lives, and has now become one in the same with our every days lives. Culture has always changed with technology. As McCluhan stated, “the medium is the message”, meaning that it is not the technology generating such communication, but the way in which we choose to use them. Technology is not taking over our lives, it is becoming a part of it; It is becoming a part of our interactions, our relationships, our values and our norms. I found it interesting how Jurgenson compared Instagram and Pinterest to the photograph. He stated that over time though new technology our views of what is picturesque change, and just as when the camera was invented we began to say “Oh that would be a good picture”, Instagram has us saying, “This would be a good Instagram”. As Jurgenson stated, “We have Twitter lips and Instagram eyes”. We constantly communicate through such technologies, and we are never truly offline.

In looking at Vincent Miller’s understanding of identity in today’s digital society in Understanding Digital Culture (2011), Miller supplies us with a new term: detraditionalization. He speaks to how the individual has new ways of representing oneself, and that we have become a fragmented self. Such online social platforms grant us access to resources that allow us to be who we want to be. Miller’s main thesis is that technology is not just a part of our lives; it is now part of social construction. We base our identity by the situation surrounding us, and with online platforms, we now can create more than one. With the time and resources we have online, we have even greater control over how we present ourselves. Miller explains that we have the option of being anonymous, hiding behind a created identity, and also multiple, having more than one identity.

All in all, we can come to the conclusion that technology is in fact changing our culture, and how we represent ourselves as individuals. Yet, communication is something that has changed every decade over time with the introduction of new technologies. Technology has such a large impact on how people everywhere communicate, thus will always have outstanding effects. With technology as fast-developing as what we have today, the impact seems quite intimidating at times, but we must keep in mind that change is something we have always constructed. Detraditionalization has been happening for hundreds of years.

Miller, Vincent (2011) Understanding Digital Culture. London: Sage Publications.

Turkle, Sherry (2011), Alone Together. New York: Basic Books.

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