Presentation of Self in a Digital Life

For the purposes of this blog I wanted to consider the presentation of ones self in a digital life and how some people can be perceived differently online than they would be in person. I hope to combine theory and my own experiences to discuss the implications the digital age have on how we are perceived in a personal/professional manner and how it affects our lives.

If we begin by considering the thoughts of Goffman (1959) who brought to our attention the fact that when someone is forced to interact with another person, that person is putting on a performance. They carefully analyse every move they make in terms of how the other person will react or how the other person’s perception of them might change. As people in this society we are brought up to recognise that there is a correct way to behave and an incorrect way. Goffman (1959) ratified this when he stated that “A society’s cultural norms define the social forces that push humans to interact in a way that is congruent with accepted social rules.” Furthermore Leary and Allen (2011) discussed how they believed that although people’s self-presentation correlates moderately with their own views, these people also tailor their public images to specific targets. In (1959) Goffman described the social world in the form of a metaphor, relating the life of the everyday person to that of a performance on a stage. He argues that we present ourselves in a certain manner in order to make identity claims for ourselves. In making these claims we attempt to secure both material and social resources for ourselves. Goffman describes those that take part in social interaction as actors, with said social interaction taking place on the front stage of life and the subsequent planning occurring on the back stage or behind the scenes. He proceeds to argue that people will go to some trouble to avoid the social situation of embarrassment. Embarrassment stops social interaction dead in its tracks and must be responded to. We say it is problematic. In order to avoid such embarrassment people will engage what is described by Goffman (1959) as “Face work.” Too much loss of face transcends mere embarrassment and becomes a powerful negative social label that radically changes a person’s social identity and self-concept or Stigma. “A person is reduced from a whole and usual one to a tainted and discounted one” (Goffman, 1963).

Goffman developed a series of concepts which are useful in describing and understanding interaction. The development of the digital world has opened up a new range of interactions that build upon the ideas first outlined by Goffman. The digital world provides people with the “backstage” previously mentioned allowing us to create the required front stage persona that everyone will see. From this we can compare face to face interaction with how we are perceived in the digital world. It is fair to say that although both allow us to mould and create a persona the digital world allows us to edit and remove areas of that persona that may cause embarrassment.

Thinking about the construction of our digital identity how does it influence the perception that people have of you? In fact because this world provides us with the chance to create any persona that we want, people may be led to believe that you are someone that you are not. Social media such as Facebook is rife with fake accounts in fact Wasserman (2012) estimates that there are approximately 83 million. Information such as this has led to an increase in awareness regarding e-safety and the drive to educate people on how to use the web properly. But considering the question from a professional point of view, a view that is important to me as a trainee teacher; your digital life is one that is very much in the public eye, anyone can access the aspects of your life once they are made digital unless the correct precautions are taken. As highlighted my Miller (1995) “on the Web you can put yourself up for interaction without being aware of a rebuff, and others can try you out without risking being involved further than they would wish.” In professional terms someone that you want to work for could potentially check you out simply by searching your name on the web. If they find something that could discredit the company, the chances of being hired are reduced significantly. For this reason alone it quintessentially important that we are aware of how we are portrayed in our digital lives. Illustrated in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1954) we are all motivated to fulfil our potential and this could possibly be why some people try to create a new persona online, develop a character that is perfect for reaching that potential.

As explained by Miller (1995) as the culture of electronic communication develops, people will construct expressive resources out of whatever facilities are available. Electronic communication will become more and more human communication to the extent that there is more to it than just efficiently passing information to each other. Considering this the digital world for some may become their only stage, choosing to present themselves just in a digital form. Reasons for this would vary depending on the individual; some may feel that this allows them to create the perfect persona, others may feel more comfortable behind a computer screen but whatever their reasons I think it is important that our digital lives and real lives are linked but are separate. Although our digital lives can be presented in a way that ensures we are not viewed in a negative light they should still be accurate. Inaccuracies can lead to problems in the future in both our personal and professional lives. Leary & Allen (2011) explained that people only present their true self with those that they are close to or trust. Leary & Allen state that this is because people are “compelled to present themselves more accurately to people who know them better.” To a degree it is understandable that people do not want to reveal their entire self to professionals or people they are unfamiliar with. However I think that we should never lie about ourselves but perhaps not fully reveal all aspects of our personas straight away.

References and Further Reading

Goffman, E. (1959) The Presentation of Self in a Everyday Life. New York: Double Day.

Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Miller, H. (1995) The Presentation of Self in Electronic Life: Goffman on the Internet. [Online] Available at: http://www.dourish.com/classes/ics234cw04/miller2.pdf (Accessed: 20th March 2013)

Leary, M & Allen, A. (2011). Self-Presentational Persona: Simultaneous Management of Multiple Impressions. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 2011, Vol. 101, No. 5, 1033–1049

Maslow, A. H. (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper and Row

Wasserman, T. (2012) [Online] Available at: http://mashable.com/2012/08/02/fake-facebook-accounts/ (Accessed: 21st March 2013)

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2 thoughts on “Presentation of Self in a Digital Life

  1. […] in the classroom relate to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.” My final blog looked into the “Presentation of self in a digital life” allowing me to think deeply about how the digital world allows us to alter our persona and how […]

  2. […] Taken from the blog: Christopher Nesbitt Don’t forget to visit the original author’s post here and leave a comment. […]

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