The result of all of these online interactions is the unwitting creation of an e-identity, a virtual whole that is greater than its parts and that, despite not being real, is full of life and vitality. Elias Aboujaode, MDThis quote illustrates the frustrating mix of interesting insight and dualistic neo-Luddism expressed in Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality. On one hand, he does some groundbreaking work in describing how virtual experience is profoundly transforming our psyche in ways that are largely invisible to us. Unfortunately, this insight is spoiled by an almost exclusive focus on negative consequences. He ends up demonizing virtual identity, describing it as:
. . . the Internet-assisted id, with its infantile self-centeredness and its dark dreams that demand to be satisfied . . . an online self that can be quite foreign to the person sitting behind the computer.Makes you want to break into evil laughter, doesn't it?
Dr. Aboujaode focuses on how identity plays out in old-school communication such as email and Web 2.0 platforms such as Facebook, match.com and even e-shopping. But it seems to me that avatar identity is probably the clearest exemplar of emergent virtual persona that is distinct from physical identity. And there has been plenty of research pointing out the positive potential of avatar identity. Maybe Daniel Voyager can put together a good list for us!
For a more nuanced look at the impact of virtual identity, I recommend Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle.