Do people reveal their true Identity on social Media? The answer seems straight forward. No they don’t. Simple, isn’t it? Then what is the need for a debate? But then I decided to look a bit deeper. What exactly is a true identity? When you start a chat with a stranger on an online chat room, the first question asked is A/S/L – Age/Sex/Location. Is that your identity? If you give genuine details there, then are you revealing your true identity? Is your mobile phone number and e-mail address your true identity? Most online forums prohibit sharing these details. So are they straight away preventing you from sharing your true identity? And now we have the government of India coming up with the unique identity numbers? Is that our identity?
Well, it might seem as if I am trivializing the question of identity. Probably identity means something deeper than A/S/L, mobile phones and ID cards. Identity as used in the clichéd phrase ‘Identity crisis’ probably means the essence of who you really are. But then first of all do you yourself know who you are? Isn’t it a question philosophers and saints have been trying to find the answer for ages and every upstart psychologist is pretending to have found the answer only to be proven wrong by the next one? Probably the identity we are talking about here is something in between the two, something in the dubious grey area. Why does everything finally have to end up in this damn grey area, though? I just hate grey. But then that’s life I guess, bitch though it is and we need to move on.
Talking of true identity is not some new fancy of the internet age. Rather than reinventing the wheel and going over age old debates, I shall leave the onerous task to two giants from the past, one from the East and one from the West. I will take up the easier task of summarizing, bringing in the social media context in and concluding.
Zhuanzi, the Chinese philosopher of 300 BC says,
Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things
Shakespeare in his famous play ‘As you like it’ says,
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
I will not insult these great men’s lucidity of thought or the reader’s intelligence by trying to offer an explanation of the above. If one were to carefully read them through, one common theme clearly stands out. We wear various masks and perform various roles, some together at the same time, some in different periods of our life to say nothing of what we do within the deeper recesses of our sub conscious mind. The same person is the father and the son, the teacher and the taught, the boss and subordinate, the business man and the customer, the artist and the critic. Each role gives us an opportunity to give expression to a different facet of our identity. What we call as our overall identity is but an aggregation of these individuals expressions. So isn’t social media just one more arena that gives us yet another opportunity to show case yet another aspect of our personalities that the various others channels have not been able to bring out?
Having brought the point of social media as an additional channel to express one’s true identity, let me point out some unique advantages this channel offers. The old adage goes, ‘Do not book a judge a book by its cover’. But then that’s what we keep doing all the time. We go by looks and clothes and social status. Social media acts as a great equalizer in this regard. People can choose to be known only for their words and thoughts on the social media. Aren’t words and thoughts a greater expression of your personality than your looks and social status?
The second advantage that social media offers is anonymity. There are so many deep thoughts we fear to share with real life people in the fear that they might judge us and the effect that it might have on our future relationship with them. There is no such fear with an anonymous stranger on a chat room. Doesn’t this opportunity to freely share our deepest thoughts without any heed to consequences give a greater opportunity to be one’s true self?
Another advantage social media offers is complete control over the communication. We can have any level of privacy we choose. We can fully express our self without the fear of being interrupted. There is no fear of a private conversation being overheard by the casual eavesdropper. One can choose if one wants to communicate with just one person in complete privacy or relay out a message to 1000 people. One is free from the limitations of the physical world. Doesn’t that provide an environment that fosters an expression of one’s true self?
Last but not the least, social media offers one a reach unimaginable 100 years back. Till the internet came, the sample from which we could pick our friends was limited to those in our physical vicinity. Internet and social media has made the whole world our playground. Doesn’t that make the likelihood of finding like minded people with whom one can express one’s true self a thousand times more on social media?
To conclude, social media is just a media. A media is an inanimate thing with no motives of its own. But I must say it offers people a wonderful opportunity to express greater aspects of their true identity. But then it is up to the individual whether to use this media to reveal or conceal. But considering that lot of people will choose to conceal their identity, I would still say, social media helps in revealing the identities of even those who try to conceal. For don’t people often reveal themselves more through what they conceal? Think about it. As you ponder over this, I would like to leave you with a conversation from a Sherlock Holmes story
"Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
"To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
"The dog did nothing in the night-time."
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.
Related Post: A Case of Confused Identities