Two weeks ago, I started a series on real-life issues and their potential transfer to the digital world. After a long discussion on Digital Dignity, I soon realized that the precondition to discuss any other matter would be the concept of a Digital Ego, which I wanna do today. Last weeks absence (together with Rousseau’s ‘Social contract’ in the French Normandie), hopefully inspired me to give a sound and holistic account on what I think a Digital Ego is.
In order to not lose ourselves into details, let me first give a brief definition of what I think the Digital Ego is. The Digital Ego is digital representation of yourself on the Internet in other digital means. I can simply be an email address or instant messenger account, a forum account with some of your life’s details and a picture or a fully-fledged social networking profile site, showing you in your two-piece on several beaches, partying hard. Without having several personalities, you can have a lot of Digital Egos. If, for example, you use one email address only for spam, then you will give this email address away and respond to emails arriving in this email account different to those who are received by your main personal email account. You will also deal different with emails on your personal and your business email account, while being at home on the weekend and checking emails. For me, this already is a different Digitel Ego. Or maybe, these are different Digital Identities of your Digital Ego. Your Digital Ego is your general way to behave in cyberspace. That must not bust most likely will be different to your behavior in real-life. Communicating and acting online differs from doing similar things in real-life. Therefore, the ways also differ. This difference creates your Digital Ego. Let us assume that you have no one to talk with about serious stuff in your real-life but entrust some people online. Then your Digital Ego might be more secure when you do not have to face people. It might even be more open-minded and generate you different options for your future life. How your Digital Ego acts can be defined by four different kinds of Digital Identities:
1. A Digital Identity which is more or less supposed to be yourself. Caused by external influences and the sheer difference of real-life and virtual-life you might act or be perceived different. A very obviously example is that people tend to insult other people more than in real-life. This is because they feel safe on this side of the computer and it does not appear as insulting as it would have been in real-life.
2. It can also be an intended fake identity. ‘On the Internet nobody knows if you are a dog’ is a slogan which fits perfectly to this identity. For a specific reason or just for fun you generate a fake identity. The use contains but is not limited to: playing pranks, criminal activities or even online flirting. A fake identity can vary from a simple email address under another man’s name to a fully-fledged faked social networking profile and separate homepage.
3. Roleplaying Games, especially Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG’s) require imagined characters. Unlike a fake identity, this identity can be linked to you real persona – most likely by your email address. Furthermore, it is a fantasy identity which is generated such as a dwarven soldier or elfish mage. Obviously that would be a pathetic fake identity. Even though, this character (ingame or forum) might act totally different from you.
4. Digital Identity type 4 is a bit more tricky. I am aware that a lot of people will tell me, that this type is not a Digital Identity but yourself. I do not think so. Type 4 basically says that you transfer a lot of your real-life personal information online (either via homepage or social networking profile). A lot of people have profiles containing their age, friends, favorite bands-series-food-underwear, travels, drunken-pictures and of course every one hour update of what they are doing. That is too much real-life information. Why? Apart from privacy issues, that is a lot more information that you would get to know about this person in real-life. So, it is also a Digital Identity. It might not differ from your real-ego in content but in availability of information. I am not running around the streets wearing a shirt which says who are my friends, how old I am and how many of the past ten nights I spent going to parties.
So far, so good. As always I would love to have your input on this issue, because I sensed that there is a lot of interest on this topic.