Exploring the Internet’s impact on personal identity: Interview with G2 Joshua

By Chris Lee

The Government Office for Science recently released a detailed report into Future Identities, looking at the influences on the way people perceive themselves in the UK over the next ten years. One of the key areas the report states as impacting the way Britons will identify themselves is over digital channels.

The report states that a substantial proportion of our waking lives is spent online or interacting with the digital environment and that “Generation Z” or “Millennials” – people born since 1996 – have known little else.

“[Users’] identities across online platforms may be broadly similar or may shift in emphasis, for example from a professional identity to a social identity, and between media, for example text messaging versus face-to-face conversations via a webcam,” the report reads. “The poly-media environment requires an individual’s identity to perform different functions in a digital networked world, for example when a person is using an online bank, making purchases from an online retail websites, or participating in social media.”

According to the report, being online makes it easier for people to explore new forms of identities and present themselves in different ways depending on their audience.

“The Internet does not produce a new kind of identity, but has instead been instrumental in raising awareness that identities were more multiple, culturally contingent and contextual than had previously been fully appreciated,” the report claims.

The Internet creates culture of openness

To make sense of the report, NMK spoke with Bobby Hui, executive planning director at brand awareness specialists G2 Joshua. Hui believes that we are not far away from a generation that knows nothing of life before social media and smartphones and that this has implications for society and marketers need to take note.

“New generations who grow up with these social platforms will naturally have a different, more open attitude when it comes to privacy; in fact, how many of us are truly cognisant of the implications of what we do online?” he asked. “Social media shouldn’t necessarily be restricted, but education and awareness is something that should be high on the agenda. The sheer speed at which the term ‘catfish’ [terminology for masquerading on social media] has been adopted into the modern lexicon is a clear indicator as to the inherent dangers around social media and identity.”

The psychology of online identities

Hui believes that the whole idea of digital personas is a fascinating one. Does digital give consumers the opportunity for dual identities or does it simply accentuate and shape the persona that is already there?

“Either way, for brands it shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a negative; brands simply need to be aware of the prospect and not allow themselves to become complacent in creating relationships,” he warned. “What we may eventually progress to is a place where it is impossible to create a fake identity online, due to a wealth of connected information automatically linking every action to some form of ‘biometric’ passport.”

Ultimately, Hui believes a reciprocal data exchange should not be viewed as a struggle, rather brands should be looking to quell consumer anxieties around data with a view to creating long-term relationships rooted in trust.

“If brands utilise customer data to serve them relevant content then everyone should be happy,” he concluded.

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