Do people reveal their true Identity on social Media?

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


Anonymous said...

interesting post on identity and social media:).

Sadiya Merchant said...

thought provoking, yes.
also the points brought out fr the advantages of social media were crisp n strong.
bt sumwhr down i gues i missed d loop.

as in, u started wid- cours nobody reveals their true identity, den reasons supporting they dont know wat identity is and finally they can really mould it d way dey like.

my question is, where is ur stand in d whole write up?
i mean as a contender who is debating, shouldnt dere be a stance dat u defend or another contrary view dat u negate? i cudn quite follow dat cos most of it sounded like ur opinion, which is grt no doubt, but it seems rather focused on coverin all aspects on the social media subject.
Dats nt d point of a debate rite? :o
or so i think.
as a post tho, i thot it was fab.
gud luck! :-)

The Fool said...

Thanks a lot, Sajeev Menon.

Thanks, Sadia. I have taken a stand that people do reveal their identity. I generally do not explicity like to state that it is this way. I just like to put the arguments. In the last line also, I point out that even if people try to conceal they still reveal something.

The Fool said...

@Sadiya - Probably what appears perfectly obvious to me may not appear so to someone else. I have made a couple of small changes to bring out my stand better. Hope now it comes out more clearly.

Sadiya Merchant said...

'u r wat u hide'
looks like concluding para has taken d editin blow.
shorrie! *scared eyes*
sounds more complete now :)

Stan Szczesny said...

I like this article a lot. "What exactly is a true identity?" is a great question. The quotes from Zhuanzi and Shakespeare are great. By the way, I'm a big fan of Zhuanzi. Anyways, you made some great points.

The Fool said...

Thanks a lot, Stan. Glad you liked my points. Coming from you who is a master of these kind of posts, I consider it a honor.

subtlescribbler said...

Undoubtedly a well written debate..u expressed ur thoughts clearly and logically. although i felt that u can't simply generalize people and 'pre assume' that everybody wears a mask 'true' to ones own identity!
as for the last part, i loved it..the sherlock holmes conversation but then again u pointed out the fact that even if one conceals something, he/she tends to reveal a larger part whereas the issue is that the 'he has concealed' his identity nonetheless..which confused me on the stand u took in d first place!

newys, a debate is bound to bring in never mind! :)


The Fool said...

Thanks, Sarah. Well, if you consider the aspect of people that one shows to his/her flesh and blood friends as identity and compare against online behaviour, then the debate becomes a no-brainer. That is why I wanted to take the definition of identity to a different level. If I have to summarize my argument in 2 lines, it would go like this. Anything that we perceive as identity of a person can never fully describe the complexity of a real person. On the other hand, every behavior a person displays on any media, flesh and blood or telephone or online is an integral part of his/her identity.

trisha said...

i think only naives give out their true identities in social networking sites at the very beginning. i have done it in the initial stage sans the address of course, at that time i did not carried a phone.

in the mid level i used to give phone number after knowing a person for a few months, then after a brush with some ..... i stopped doing that.

i dont think people should share these things unless they are sure about the person.

Someone is Special said...

well TF, a well written post, nice arguments.. Great quotes from Zhuanzi and Shakespeare.. But actually "What is a true idnetity?" come let us debate here.. of course people do reveal..

Someone is Special

Karthik L said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Fool said...

Thanks a lot, SIS and Trisha.

@Trisha - True. But my argument is that identity is beyond personal details.

subtlescribbler said...

Dont u think that Going into d complexity of identity would mean v never ever show or rather know 'who we actually' are. but then in this case..we talk about the identity or better call it a small fragment of our identity which one is aware of and through which we and others around d vicinity identify and relate to us! Its this fragment that is manipulated and sculpted according to our thought and desires...and on the contrary maybe u can say that this too is a part of our no two people act alike!
ok! now this actually got confusing! hope I made some sense :P


The Fool said...

@Sarah - The point I am making is that there is no constant behaviour even outside the virtual world. You would not be the same person with your friends as you are with your family or at you office with your boss and subordinates. Each different role in life requires a different bheaviour. In some cases it happens naturally and some people consciously try to project certain behavior according to situation. So is it fair to call these people fakes for isnt't what they are projecting in the different scenarios part of themselves only?

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