Networked Identities? Wired Experiences of Self?

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Mechthild Maczewski
University of Victoria

Key Questions

  • In a wired society, what roles do information and communication technologies (ICT) play in negotiating a healthy sense of self?
  • What new conceptualizations of self and identity are emerging for young people in networked, increasingly technologically mediated societies?

multiple selves
I feel completely different [online & onground] as in F. and K. are two different people - at least that is how I felt the first year or so [online]... My offline shyness and my online boisterouity were completely, totally different. No one would EVER guess shy quiet K. was the girl dancing on tabletops, getting married, stripping, laughing hysterically, crazy wild F. (F.,17yrs, 1999)

impact of 'always on' connection
"if i had an always on connection in class i could do a project that should take weeks in a few hours. i could chat with some guy in china who is really good at math when i'm stuck. if i get bored i can play starcraft. it's perfect... but back to school. so i take all these marks that i'm getting because of presentation and knowledge i got because of a search engine, i get better grades i get into a better college i get a better job i get more money and money is power. hence being online all the time is power." (Ken, 15yrs, 2001)


Baumeister (1984) clearly articulates how concepts of self and identity are linked to specific psychological, socio-cultural and historical developments. Within wired communities individuals are increasingly experiencing themselves within multiple virtual and physical worlds, and are thus exposed to and participating in multiple ways of experiencing their sense of self and identities (O'Brien, 1999; Gergen, 1991; Hillis, 1999; Markham, 1998; O'Brien, 1999; Turkle, 1995). However, not only do ICT enable the experience of multiple identities, but as De Kerckhove (1997) and McLuhan (1964) point out, electronic communication media also in themselves shape and form human interaction and experience. For young people growing up today in increasingly locally and globally 'wired', networked societies, what are the connections among ICT's and an experienced 'wired' sense of self?

As Ken (quote above) illustrates, his experiences of identity and conceptualization of power are definitely linked to information access, people and relationships through information and communication technologies. If a healthy sense of self in wired societies is increasingly linked to and through ICT, then questions, such as the following, urgently need to be explored and addressed:

  • How do current theories of self and identity incorporate new ICT developments?
  • How are experiences of power/powerlessness and agency/lack of agency strongly linked to access and control of information technologies as Ken's comments suggest?
  • If so, how does being technologically disconnected affect individuals?
  • How can experiences of a healthy sense of self be facilitated/discrupted in increasingly 'wired' societies by and through use of ICT?
  • Who provides and controls access to information and ICT?

I believe it to be important to explore these questions to understand the dynamics among ICT's and individuals/communities. Understanding the social and psychological impacts of ICT's on adults, children and youth will contribute to ICT access, use and control that will benefit the development and sustainability of healthy local and global individuals and communities.

  • Further research into social and psychological impacts of ICT (especially with young people) needs to be conducted
  • New theories that conceptualize power, agency, self and identities in the context of wired societies need to be formulated
  • Social and psychological impacts of ICT connectivity/lack of connectivity need to be understood
  • Responsibilities of ICT professionals (developers, providers, regulators, users) need to be addressed and
  • Access to ICT & information for all needs to be ensured
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