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The Internet has provided us with a way to explore and play with our identity by creating virtual identities and we have embraced it happily – especially the adolescents. A virtual identity is a representation of the overall online identity and is used in a virtual environment or an online community. Usually it is represented by a nickname and an avatar. In their years of identity development they have been given a fairly safe playground to experiment and hopefully find an answer to the big question: Who am I?
The 15-19 year old Danes have various ways of creating their identity and they do it in several different places too. The majority like the anonymity which the Internet provides. It makes them feel safe – particularly the youngest in the segment. The oldest are a bit more relaxed when it comes to disclosure of personal information online. A certain level of privacy is wished for but self-disclosure is needed to create interpersonal relationships and trust.
All but one participant in the survey use a nickname and it is also quite popular to use an avatar. Nicknames and avatars are the two things by which other users can identity a certain user quick and easy. Avatars come in many forms and the possibilities of them vary from place to place. Some of the participants in the survey are very conscious when it comes to choice of nickname and avatar. They think about what it represents and how they would like to be perceived while others base their choices on their taste. However, even though they are not consciously aware, there is a deeper symbolic meaning behind their choices and it will reveal something about the offline person. Even deselecting specific things says something about you.
Online activities of the 15-19 year old Danes were also investigated to get more insight into their online lives. Their activities were divided between different subject areas and they also did different things when they were online which they were min 3 hours and some over 9 hours. A big part contributes to the Internet and they are all part of at least 1 online community – some over 9. From the research it can be concluded that they engage themselves very much in the Internet and the online communities they belong to. They have different motives for joining these communities but the main motive seems to be Social Integration – finding like-minded people to share aspects of the identity which needs to be hidden in everyday life perhaps. They want to have a place where they belong – to find out where they belong and who they are.
Developing different aspects of one’s identity online can be good but to integrate offline and online identities, activities and worlds, can prove to be very rewarding. There are different ways to go about this integration. Some ways might work for some people and other might work for others it seemed. Integration from offline to online was mainly used in regards to disclosure of personal information to create trust and relationships. In extension, integration from online to offline was used to take the relationships a step further by actually meeting online acquaintances in real life.
Virtual identities can be used for various things as we have seen depending on the person utilising it. They can also be created in many different ways in several places. Using a virtual identity can give freedom, safety, satisfaction and if you allow it development. No matter what way the integration of online and offline takes place it helps develop the identity and coming closer to answering that big question: Who am I?
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