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Class 6: My Avatar and Me – virtual identities

March 12, 2020

Discussing self and identity is more complex than it seems!

Very few of you had reviewed the reading/viewing material before coming to class this week so, John asked you do so before we began a discussion. It is pointless trying to have any discussion without some prior exposure to the concepts presented by Daniel Dennett and David Chalmers. This is quite challenging territory so we all need to start off from the same point of departure.

Although this took up a considerable amount of class time it was necessary.

Locks Aichi sent apologies and regrets that due to work commitments she was unable to join us as guest speaker this evening. However, she had done considerable preparation and sent notes to John to guide the discussion.

We started by remembering Sitearm’s introduction to the concept of ‘persona’ in class 3. John then asked everyone to answer the question ‘who are you?’ in the context of the two presentations, ‘how do you describe your self?’ The questions were more difficult to respond to than we might have thought but the following emerged after some prompting:

  • 20 year old male
  • student
  • a mind in a body
  • outgoing, extrovert
  • introvert
  • fair
  • fun
  • cheerful
  • honest
  • concerned
  • considerate
  • careful
  • curious
  • creative
  • musical
  • visual
  • aspiring (to greatness)
  • positive

Sitearm asked you about your skills, do they contribute to who you are? John wondered what impression you would like to give to someone you are meeting for the first time. How would you like them to describe you?

  • inventive
  • swimmer
  • process (eg, design process)
  • kind
  • good humoured
  • charming
  • open and approachable

Then John asked if you consider these descriptions to be real, or are they illusions? So, what makes your self real? You suggested that it is social interaction, how others reflect you back to yourself. One of you put it as ‘I am what other people think of me’. This led to the proposition that while we are one person we have many different layers. John asked if there is a core ‘you’ an unchanging sense of your self underneath all the layers? The response was that you have some core qualities that are more stable than others and that might change much more slowly than others.

You spoke of how your presentation of your selves is somewhat determined by the social situation. For example, your persona at home with your family is very different from your persona when out with friends.

Another interesting comment from one of you was that you don’t sit down and have a conversation with yourself.

Ultimately, it seems difficult to grasp exactly what our ‘real’ self might be. John suggested that the notion of an unchanging ‘you’ that lies at your core is what we tend to think of as our ‘self’ whereas the manner in which we present in different social situations is seen as a range of ‘identities’ that we can assume depending on the situation.

This led on to a discussion about social media and how we might present ourselves there. Do online environments give a greater opportunity for controlling our identities? Or does it simply result in a more detailed digital footprint that you leave behind? Instagram, SnapChat, WhatsApp, Facebook and LinkedIn we mentioned as the main apps used. Some of you use aliases when using them, just as we do here in SL. Your use of the apps reflected your earlier references to different identities.

Sitearm asked an interesting question about how your use of social media might also change over time. For example, if you were using social media before college have you felt the need to change your profile since leaving school? or do you anticipate having to change again when you enter the workplace? John wondered if you had heard of the phrase ‘the internet never forgets’? Are you aware of the nature of ‘digital footprints’?

This led the discussion to the difference between your personal identities and your professional identities. How do you present your professional skills in the digital online environment? John suggested that you need to take control of your social media – it is too important to simply allow your image to develop randomly. So, activities such as blogging can support the development of your ‘personal brand’. Your social media profile is an opportunity to demonstrate your professional attributes.

Before we concluded Sitearm asked for a quick ‘likes and wishes’ reaction to the class. The ‘likes’ included the opportunity to dig deeper into the topic; support for developing professional profiles; shared examples of our ideas on personality and identity; open conversation with no right or wrong answers; Sitearm appreciated how the everyone participated and shared their experiences. The ‘wishes’ included viewing the reading/viewing material in advance of class; and also doing the reading together during class!

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