The Conflict of Online & Offline Identities

The pace of psychological science has not kept up with the pace of technological progress, leading to a whole slew of issues surrounding our so-called online identities.If you follow psychology as far as it flows into mainstream media, you must have observed the studies surrounding online addiction, marriages, suicidal behavior, and so on. But, these are extremities, and the numerous surveys and research studies don’t address what the rest of the 99% are going through. Yes, there is indeed a conflict we are all experiencing as our digital personae become as or more pervasive as our real ones were never destined to be.

It is a conflict that needs deeper study.

Even in our real lives, we struggle to understand our real self. This illustrates the situation pretty well:

  (I am not sure where this abstraction comes from – Carl Rogers comes close)

In essence, we are neither who we think we are, nor are we what others think we are. Our real “self” is embedded in some shadow. Discovering this – our “real self” – is the magic that has spawned generations of godmen and mystics. This quest for the search of our true “identity” has continued for centuries.

What happens when you introduce online identity? This:

 The quest for identity has gotten much, much more difficult thanks to the Internet. We are no longer just real human beings living in real lives, visible to sound, sight, and touch – we are now a Twitter account, a Facebook account, a Google Plus account, and so on.

These online accounts are identities in themselves. Whether one chooses to associate these online identities with one’s real identity is an individual’s choice. (Reminder – there are over 7 billion people on this planet). But many do, and when they do, there is a conflict. Online and Offline collide in ways one had never thought of before. Yes, they do, just like this.

How does it look when your online persona is very different from what you really are?

 The more different you are online than in your real life, the more stress you will feel.

Some people are true to themselves to such an extent that their real life identities match closely with their online identities.

 These are folks who experience harmony, with their digital and real self entwined together.

Another way to think about this:

 No wonder millions of people are trying to solve the puzzle.

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  • Bellissimo! And bang on target. The Rubik’s cube is so apt – it’s a puzzle – and those 3×2 parameters are ever shifting as we try and get a colour together. 🙂

  • “In essence, we are nei­ther who we think we are, nor are we what oth­ers think we are. Our real “self” is embed­ded in some shadow”
    I believe it is folly to think of a discrete true/real self, much like a lion chasing its own tail.

    Loved the Seinfeld clip, spot on.

    ” The more dif­fer­ent you are online than in your real life, the more stress you will feel.”

    Cognitive dissonance need not apply to actors.

    “These are folks who expe­ri­ence har­mony, with their dig­i­tal and real self entwined together.”

    I strive for this. Yet it’s not a goal achieved, but a direction or path walked.

    “Where is the real ‘you’?”

    It is all and none of these identities. It’s the perceptive base, the bits that collectively postulate such questions. The question defies a concrete answer. We learn a little about who we are (now) each day, and our perceptions, thoughts, feelings and decisions shift over time.

    This post is a great read for the cognitive sub-reddit, I’ll share it there now.

    • Mark,

      Thanks for the comment and apologies for the delay in responding. Agree with most of your thoughts, except: “Cognitive dissonance need not apply to actors”

      Movie actors who take their fictional characters seriously do indeed land up having a lot of psychological issues. Many, many examples scattered throughout movie-making history.

      • But are roles which cause cognitive dissonance the majority? I was under the impression that many (most?) actors don’t suffer from roles which are unlike their “natural” persona.

        My point is that actors may not suffer the same type of internal strife. Applying a persona to them is not much different than throwing on a jacket for us. I should hope the voice actor for Homer Simpson is much different than the character, and that’s a long time for cognitive dissonance to build up.

        •  Oh no, not the majority at all, but I thought you were ruling out the possibility by making a definitive, all-encompassing statement.

          • We almost had a difference of opinions, but alas we agreed once again. I’ll keep working at it. Enjoy the day 🙂

            •  He he 🙂 You too! And thanks again.

  • Indulge me while I go off on a tangent..

    In the absence of continuous feedback, the self fragments into insanity. (I use feedback in a very broad sense – sensory input, Newton’s 3rd law, social intercourse, everything) e.g. solitary confinement in the dark

    Similarly, in the absence of feedback, the online self decays to nothing. Few “real selves” are strong-willed enough to maintain a complex online alter-ego over a long period of time, in the absence of feedback. How long would, say, Fake Steve Jobs have lasted, if it got absolutely no response?

    By ruthless Darwinian logic, those online persona-species which are easy to animate (post, share, tweet) and – more importantly – easily attract feedback will proliferate, and others will be driven to niches or perish.

    Thus the proliferation of Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest persona, powered by easy and fast share-feedback loops. +1s and Likes and “OMGLOL” comments require little effort from the giver and constitute a cheap, renewable energy source for that species. IMHO some of their growth has been at the cost of expensive-feedback forms like long-form blogging.

    • Well said. In fact, I was thinking about the same thing yesterday – the proliferation of “Likes”, “ReTweets”, etc. is because there’s such a low barrier to entry in these types of social interactions. One can easily shed inhibitions & appear more extroverted when engaging in such low-effort interactions.