Best of Freshman Writing
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maintained by Jim Manis
Last updateded July 2, 2012.
PSU – Brandywine
“Social networking” is typically heard today when we are talking about popular websites such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter. However, the scope of social networking can be augmented. “Social” means to seek others and “networking” means to make connections; thus, as long as the activity involves other human beings and the want or need to connect, we can classify it as social networking. With this in mind, we now expand our examples from just Facebook and sites like it to online video games, blogs, and forums.
The internet has broadened the possibilities for new identities to be formed across many media, such as video games. These new identities can require the same amount, sometimes more, attention than that of one’s “real” life identity. For example, an online video game called Second Life allows the user to create just what the title implies, a second life in which the user interacts with other gamers across the globe. The user begins at any specified age and from there lives a life which he or she creates. Many of these users create lives that they could never imagine pursuing in the “real” world, such as exploring sexuality, crime, drugs and anything else they desire. The catch is that the game follows the real world time table and thus for these tasks to be accomplished, considerable time must be invested into this second life. This lost time conflicts with everyday activities within the users “real” life, and the identity built in the “real” world begins to crumble. The second life, which the user goes to in order to escape the stresses and responsibilities of the “real” world, become his or her only life and only identity in both the “real” world and cyberspace.
Social networking sites, such as Google+ and Facebook, allow users to create a profile or identity of themselves for all to view. Once the first profile is created on any social networking website, the identity of the user is being etched into stone. The internet does not misplace a photo that should never have been taken or a sudden outburst of anger expressed in a less than tasteful post. For example, when a college graduate first begins sending out résumés and attending interviews with prospective employers, she or he must be presentable in the real world, such as wearing appropriate attire. However, the graduate must now be prepared to have his online profiles or identities viewed on social networking websites. Many employers have begun to hire only those applicants who have the ability to represent the company in a good light both on- and offline. Way before this takes place, that former high school student had to apply to good colleges in hopes of one day finding a well-paying job. To pay for these good and expensive colleges, many have to apply for scholarships that are coveted by every student within that high school, town and even country. Any statements or photos found on this social networking website may lead to the student’s disqualification for the college admissions as well as any awarding of scholarships. These profiles can leave a wake of destruction behind years after the fact.
YouTube is a social video platform that allows users to create a profile and upload content that they generated. This has created a new form of online identity that can only be compared to that of TV show hosts. When a new show is first pitched as an idea, a person to host this show must be considered. lt is the host’s personality that will eventually draw in the viewers. However, this personality is not the same on and off the air. For example, Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report on Comedy Central plays a right wing conservative newscaster who tends to exaggerate certain news stories. However, when he is interviewed by magazines or newspapers, he tends to be a moderate in his views and explains that he created that identity as a way to attract more viewers. The same is done on YouTube where users create content and identities that they think will attract the most viewers and possibly subscribers. This new identity, however, is harder to conceal as the others because it involves actually putting a real face to the identity rather than an old or fake photo. Some users of this service have reached celebrity status with millions following their channels. However, the on- and offline identities clash, for many cannot keep the act going forever and others simply act themselves when meeting viewers at YouTube events instead of being in character. The online identities can easily take hold of the offline ones and simply take on the dominant role. These complex online identities clash with the real world or offline identities more often than not. At times, they can cause serious harm to the user and can have lasting effects. People can even find their real-world identities being consumed by the online identities and thus an identity crisis occurs. This clash between real world and online identities will persist for ages to come.
Daniel MacIntosh's essay appears here with his express written permission and cannot be reproduced in any manner or fashion without his express written permission.