|Me! (Original version created July '08)|
Psychological identity formation mediates our visceral sense of self through the reflecting chamber of the external world. As the image above depicts, there is an ongoing interplay between our projection of self to others and the affirming or contradictory stories others project about us. The dance of identity construction is impacted not just by personally directed attribution, but also by ambient cultural messages related to race, gender, class, etc.
Over the course of life, the initially flexible and fluid potential of identity becomes constrained by an accumulating legacy of personal history. Both our sense of self and the way we are perceived within our social circles become more fixed and less amenable to change. Although it is certainly possible to recreate oneself at any point in life, it is not simply a matter of acting to modify one's own behavior. It is very difficult to develop a "new you" when friends, family and colleagues continue to respond to the "old you" they are used to. This is why people who leave their hometown to forge new lives can quickly fall into old patterns when they come home for the holidays.
The creation of a pseudonymous avatarian identity can allow one to transcend many of the psychological, cultural and interpersonal constraints described above. You can not merely leave your hometown behind, but also escape the socially defined feedback and presumptions associated with physical form, nationality, economic status, etc., including those we have internalized.
I suspect that the increasing presence and activity of avatar-identified participants in social networks reflects the unique roles those vehicles play in the identity-formation process of virtual personas. I'll hack more into the underlying processess later this week.