I'll be your mirror
Identity reflections on the two sides of a computer screen

Giulia Ranzini

Institute for Media and Communications Management, University of St. Gallen, Switzerland.

Keywords: online, social, digital, identities, media, individuals


Digital communication, and social media in particular, have brought enormous changes in the way we establish connections and maintain relationships. At the same time, providing us with a space that is entirely constructed around us, social networking sites have also introduced a new way of representing and making sense of ourselves. Through online profiles, in fact, as well as usernames, or avatars, we can give birth to true digital identities, allowing us to circulate our private information and fulfil our needs for self-expression. However, given the complete interdependence of the 'real world' with the Web, exemplified by the overwhelming presence of connected devices in our daily lives, reflections on our identities online become urgent and necessary. In fact, as the boundary between online and offline grows thinner and more penetrable, it might be useful to think of the interplay between our digital and physical selves as two sides of the same mirror, each one influencing and reflecting elements of the other.

The scope of this paper, therefore, is to explore the concept of digital identities, focusing in particular on what might drive self-representation on the Internet, considering both strategic objectives and spontaneous, emotional needs. In order to provide a stronger conceptual framework, the first section of the paper will provide an introduction to how identities have been studied in the social sciences, before the Internet. In the second section, rational and emotional elements within digital identities will be presented, aiming to provide an overview of why online action is so important to make sense of ourselves today. In the conclusion, digital identities will be contextualised in the broader field of Digital Humanities, expanding the reflection on how we relate to, and through technology.

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Giulia Ranzini is a Ph.D candidate at the University of St. Gallen, Research Assistant at the Institute for Media and Communication Management and Visiting Researcher at the School of Communication, Northwestern University (Evanston, IL). Her doctoral dissertation explores how adult professionals manage the boundary between private and professional life on social media.

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