Abiding Themes 7 / Flexible Identity

My favourite song of all time is Bitter Sweet Symphony by The Verve.  It’s more than a decade old now, but it still sounds fresh, and it’s still just as exciting to hear it now as it was when it was first released back in 1997.  When it came out, I was about 21, and finishing my degree.  Music meant a lot to me then, and part of that was how precious it was – there was no streaming of tunes or torrent sites.  I used to share music with mates by copying it onto tapes rather than emailing them a Spotify link…

Anyway, back to the Verve.  The thing about Bitter Sweet Symphony that really caught my attention was the phrasing in the chorus:

I’m a million different people from one day to the next

Personal identity is a powerful subject.  To a greater or lesser extent, every action we take and every answer we give is part of what makes us a person.   Bitter Sweet Symphony might be about escaping the restrictions of a confining existence through the fragmentation of the self: about empowerment and freedom, about taking a trip away from a clearly defined set of goals (you’re a slave to the money then you die).

Which you are you?

We are all slightly different people at the same time.  Who I am in the office is not who I am at home.  I expose ideas differently to my boss than my mum, and differently to my friends than my kids – although they are always the same ideas, and come from the same value system.  Interpersonal behaviour is always relative, a matter of degrees rather than being representative of entirely different value systems.

Who hears you?

One of the things that Social Media has profoundly changed in the last few years is the ability of the individual to express their inner thoughts more readily and more publically than ever before.  Until blogging came along, people kept their diaries private, now the confessional journal is online and available for anyone to read and comment on.

The personal and private area where the different selves converged and overlapped is now in the public area,.  The barriers between different images of a person are falling away, and the groups that saw a person from a slightly different perspective are now seeing a more complete version.

The average Facebook account is connected to almost 200 people.  Not all of these are family, not all of these are colleagues, not all of these are friends.  They are a combination of all of the above, and they see aspects of a person that they are unfamiliar with.

This can be a good or a bad thing.

Multiple Me?

The tools exist for us to separate our different identities online already – Yammer for work relate workplace chat, Linkedin for external work related communication, Facebook for Friends and Family, Twitter for news.  The list goes on.  On each one of these profiles, the language is different, the themes are different and the tone is different.  Its just like real life.

The Mask of Anonymity

People are pretty brave online, saying things that they would never say face to face, and expressing thoughts and opinions that are often pretty far outside the realms of the acceptable.  I’m comfortable enough with the idea of anonymity, the idea of having no identity, and using this as a means to express thoughts and ideas freely.

A lot of the power of social media to change opinions and promote personal freedom comes from the ability of people to share ideas without fear of being linked to them.  One of the most powerful scenes in modern cinema comes from the massed ranks of anonymous at the climax of V for Vendetta:

A flood of anon
A flood of anon

Multiple personality?

Online you are freed from the restraints of normal personal interaction, and given the ability to express yourself in any way you see fit, however this must always be couched in who you are, or it comes across as being arch and cynical.

For a company using social media to promote itself or its products, it is essential that the persona that is used is representative of the corporate philosophy and that the Tweets or Facebook posts are genuine and relevant.

In the connected world, identity is flexible; Integrity is not.

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