The Future of Identity

Main point: The web might either (1) tie our online identity intimately close to our real-life identity or (2) make our alternate online identity life-like.

Real Life Moves Online

I was one of the early big supporters of Facebook, because to me it was the first time a social network made it easy and natural to put my real name at the top of the profile. My real identity for the first time had a definite home on the world wide web. I was no longer hiding under a clever-sounding screen name on a forum in the dark depths of the searchable cyberspace.

In my eyes this was one of the untapped powers of the Internet, where every website will know me in every way that is necessary for it to provide me the best service possible. I believe in the power of competition to optimize the balance of privacy and quality of service. Capitalism has a dark side of course, and therefore this optimistic vision of mine ran into a few roadblocks due to privacy concerns of the public.

Online Life Becomes Real

One look at any online political forum or YouTube video, and it’s immediately clear that when speech and thoughts are disengaged from the restrictions of real-world consequences, all hell breaks loose. There’s even a name for this abandonment of inhibitions: online disinhibition effect.

And yet, games like World of Warcraft clearly indicate that an alternate online identity can be liberating for people while still keeping out the cyber chaos brought on by trolls and hate mongers. Massively multiplayer online role-playing game like WoW are exciting for the “future of identity”. As online worlds become more and more engrossing in their realism, a sense of identity a person gains from that experience might become more and more real to a point that perhaps this online identity will be the more prized one for a large fraction of the population.

The line between the real world and the cyber world gets blurrier every day…

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