In the physical world, your identity is already represented in a multitude of ways, often delineated by geography (e.g. neighborhood), function (e.g. housewife, doctor), tribe (e.g. runners, software developers), and so on. Despite these variations of self, it is the presence of our physical being which authenticates and reinforces the imagination we have of one another.
In the online environment, this body of meaning stretches in more dramatic ways, especially when we consider the types of media to choose to represent ourselves (mediated identities). From the early Internet days of text (IRC, newsgroups ASCII art), to the rich and often exaggerated depictions through photos and videos on media sharing sites (e.g. Facebook, Youtube). Do watch Derek Lackaff’s explanation of this in my recent video interview. The by-products of these virtual selves include everything from the rise of DIY microcelebrities to satirical manifestation of an ex-Prime Minister on twitter.
While the physical realm of identity has been constantly studied under numerous disciplines such as philosophy, sociology and communication, some work has been done to illuminate the mysteries of our virtual selves, much of it to reveal why we’re willing to displace so much of our time for games like World of Warcraft or social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. Still, not enough might have been done to examine the impact that mediated / virtual identities could pose in the context of the real world.
The book is “Digital Ego: Social and Legal Aspects of Virtual Identity” by Jacob Van Kokswijk. Here’s an abstract from the academic publisher based in the Netherlands:
Non-human virtual identities have an increasing impact on our society. A virtual identity is not just an online identity of a person, but a new technical and social phenomenon. What if software agents, powered by artificial intelligence, start acting on your behalf in a digital marketplace? What are the legal consequences of decisions made by these autonomous virtual agents?
Digital Ego counters the common belief that a virtual identity is only a temporary and innocent phenomenon, which disappears when a computer is switched off. Influenced by markets, politics and culture, cyberspace is becoming a highly regulated world where, compared to our tangible world, behaviour will be much more tightly controlled. The author addresses a broad range of social and legal aspects of virtual identities, such as the position of virtual environments in real world legal systems, and the difference between virtual and real identities.
Jacob van Kokswijk is a communications expert. He has written several books and articles about digital interactive media, user controlled technologies, cross media development and human behaviour in cyberspace. He is Adjunct Professor HCI at KAIST Graduate School of Culture Technology (Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology). Jacob is also a Research Professor in digital media at the Dutch Twente University , and is currently researching the phenomenon of Virtual Identities at the Law School of the Faculty of Law, Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Strathclyde.