Interestingly, in the digital world, it has become possible to maintain many different identities as well; these identities can be imaginative and even contrary to any physical identity. There are thousands of online communities that focus on just about any topic imaginable. Joining those communities (usually) requires only an email address which can be obtained with relative anonymity from many sources, and it is very difficult to verify the physical identity of anyone who is a member of online communities. Sherry Turkle, a sociologist from MIT studied computer users’ sense of identity early in the days of Internet-mediated communication. She observed that many users at the time were creating multiple online identities and that many users were exploring different senses of identity through those online spaces, and Turkel (1995) began her book Life on the Screen with the observation,
At one level, the computer is a tool. It helps us write, keep track of our accounts, and communicate with others. Beyond this, computers offer us both new models of mind and a new medium in which to project our ideas and fantasies. Most recently, the computer has become even more than tool and mirror. We are able to step through the looking glass. We are living in virtual worlds. We may find ourselves alone as we navigate virtual oceans, unravel virtual mysteries, and engineer virtual skyscrapers. Increasingly, when we step through the looking glass, other people are there as well (9).
Turkle’s observations proved to be an accurate prediction about the future of the Internet as it was an observation of the initial days of the Internet. Today, members of the digital generations are creating an online presence at an early age, and they demonstrate an openness and comfort in living online in a manner that is disconcerting and perceived to be artificial to those who belong to pre-digital generations.
Turkle, Sherry. 1995. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York: Simon & Schuster.