Sunday, 25 March 2012

Digital America

America is a nation built on enterprise and development. Individuals have been constantly pushing the boundaries of technology, which is why the digital world is so present in modern American identity. Innovators such as Tom Anderson (Inventor of Myspace) and Mark Zuckerberg (Inventor of Facebook), amongst others, have helped to create an online universe; a place where you can communicate with people across America and the world with a click of a button. The convenience of this form of contact has meant that the online world has become extremely popular, and assuming an online identity has in turn become the preferred way of living for many people. There is huge debate as to whether this digital identity is positive or not, however. The amazing ability to communicate with people can become overshadowed by the complexities of identity online. The problem of false identity and anonymity has become all too common in recent years, and suggests that digital identity can be dangerous and flawed.

On the site, Alex Smolen highlights some of the problems with having a digital identity. In the blog he explains how social networking and online identities reflect a 'loss of control' and 'static, persistent' identity vulnerable to unwanted visitors. These ideas are far from rare, and the fear of the digital world is increasing. The rise in people assuming a digital identity has also led to a rise in people attempting to exploit the people in the digital world. Smolen puts this down to the fact that the wooden, impersonal nature of a digital identity can be 'easily fabricated'. This view suggests that the digital world is far more unreliable and dangerous than the real world, in which your identity is more honest and unable to be fabricated.

As well as the obvious example of social networking, we can also talk about how the likes of MMORPGs and sites such as Youtube play a part in a new, digital identity. MMORPGs, or Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games, have become extremely popular in recent years and are undoubtedly one of the most intense and intimate ways of creating a digital identity different from your own. Unlike social networking sites where you are told to create a profile which accurately portrays yourself in the real world and contains information true to yourself, MMORPGs encourage the opposite. In one sense, this avoids many of the identity issues that Smolen talks about in relation to social networking, but there are other issues that surrouding this form of digital identity. The game-playing which involves MMORPGs means that the experience you have online is far more like real life than social networking sites. Instead of being an add on to your real world life, MMORPGs often replace the life people have. Addiction is common in this realm, and the way in which MMORPGs make you feel like the online avatar you create is more important than your real life shows how in many ways the digital identity is attributing to a decline in American real world identity.

YouTube is another very popular way of expressing yourself and creating an identity online. The site encourages users to post videos online for others to share, which sounds simple enough, but the popularity of the site has meant that the lives of individuals such as Rebecca Black and Keenan Cahill have changed dramatically. Rebecca shot to fame when the video of her singing 'Friday' became a youtube sensation. From this point onwards, without knowing anything about her, people began to aggressively criticise Rebecca on a personal level, simply because they didn't like her video. Keenan's story is similar, but the outcome was more positive. He became renowned for his lip-syncing of famous pop songs. Although not all of the feedback to his videos have been positive, he is now a celebrity. Both of these examples show that the digital world can have a huge effect on people, and that a digital identity means that ordinary people can become extremely well known without even leaving their house.

It is clear that having a digital identity is something which has its dangers, but if used sensibly, it can be something very positive and useful. It is explained on, by Donny Wibowo, that 'Virtual communities have become an important influence in the social development of teenagers in the modern world by allowing them to express their personalities.' Wibowo goes on to explain that the digital world represents the forward thinking values of America in a pioneering way, as well as maintaining the values that come with face to face interaction. With this in mind, perhaps we should just accept the fact that the digital world and online identities reflect the new American identity, whilst being aware of the potential dangers that we can come across by subscribing to it.

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