Ana Viseu on Tue, 1 Feb 2000 17:58:04 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> On electronic identity and 'personal identity'

Establishing a relationship between electronic identity and 'personal

In psychological terms 'personal identity' is the explicit side of
personality, i.e., it is the side that others can perceive, while
personality is the 'backbone' behind it. How can one study electronic
identity? How does this explicit identity behave in a new virtual
environment? Is it worth looking at the theme of electronic identity-or
cyber-identity-trying to perceive and establish relationships between this
category and the more familiar category of 'personal identity? 

Electronic identity or cyber-identity emerges in the social spaces created
in computer networks, most commonly known as cyberspace(s). It consists of
the construction of a 'digital persona', i.e., of a self-image with which
an individual presents him or herself to others. Electronic identity is
usually characterized as being the result of an active construction, and
many believe that it provides the best opportunity to express who we
really are or, who we really would like to be. The new Self is said to be
multiple, distributed and fluid and, most of all, a representation of its
possessor 's will [1].

I believe that this statement is misleading because cyber-identity is, in
many ways similar, to personal identity. First, cyber-identity, similarly
to 'personal identity', is not free from the influence of its possessor's
personality. And, in turn, personality traits are not autonomously chosen. 
Thus, while some may argue that the expression of 'the possessor's will'
is the true expression of the self, I think that this expression is, to
say the least, the result of a constrained personal will. Second, the
stereotypes that guide interpersonal communication and that are principal
shapers of 'personal identity', are still present in cyberspace and, in
fact, due to the lack of visual cues, these stereotypes can be even
stronger in cyberspace [2]. Lastly, it is necessary to point out that
although cyber-identity is not bounded by the physical constraints of the
body, it is not free from restrictions. These restrictions arise both from
the necessity of using certain technologies in order to express ourselves,
and from the specificities of these predefined technologies. The need to
use certain technologies translates in an exclusion of all those who do
not have access to them, or who do not possess the expertise to create the
cyber-identity they envision. Furthermore, it translates into limitations
-due to technical constraints, such as bandwidth- in the contents that can
be used to construct and express 'identity'. The specificities of the
technology relate to the 'politics' of the artifact itself. For example,
digital technologies are potentially control technologies, i.e.,
technologies that can be used to monitor the behavior of the individual. 

The establishment of this analogy sheds some light into the development
and nature of electronic identity: Cyber-identity is as much a
technological product as it is a social product. It is bounded by social
rules and its developmental patterns are shaped by the intervention of a
series of actors - e.g., other individuals with their own interests, the
technology itself, technical innovations, etc.- just like the 'personal
identity' is.

[1] Turkle, Sherry. (1995). Life on the screen: identity in the age of the
internet. New York: Touchstone; Stone, Allucquere Rosanne. (1996) [1998]. 
The war of desire and technology. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 

[2] Wallace, Patricia. (1999). The psychology of the Internet. Cambridge,
UK: Cambridge University Press. 

Tudo vale a pena se a alma nao e pequena.

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