Below is an interesting piece of writing in which I have mainly written about social networking sites/communities and identity construction. Well, it is at least interesting for me since I am actually laying myself on table and discussing my own online identity in detail as objectively as an individual can do when writing about oneself. I am not sure how far you can possibly go and read, and whether you will enjoy reading it, but I could say that I enjoyed writing such a piece of paper since it makes me feel that I am both the subject and the researcher. I might also suggest you to try doing such a thing and see what happens. You may end up somewhere up there where you may feel a total stranger to your real-self or online identity; or you may also realize how integrated these identities could be. If you do so, and share your comments here, I will be really pleased to publish and read them.
The role of language in the formation and expression of identity is necessarily huge since people express themselves and communicate their ideas through words and sentences, namely language. In the past, the discussion used to be concentrated on language use through words, gestures in terms of various receptive or productive skills. Still, regarding language use, similar things are being discussed by many; however, there have been really radical changes, especially in terms of media through which message is conveyed or the environment where they are transmitted. Therefore, the importance of language still remains intact, but identity and the platform where it is being constructed have gone through significant changes. As a matter of fact, just as language is used to express face-to-face self, it is also used in online social networks to a considerable extent. An individual’s face-to-face self did not use to endow one with unlimited opportunities to wear or build various identities and does not still do so today, but thanks to today’s online opportunities particularly on social networking environments, one can present him/herself in a number of dissimilar ways. As a result of all this discussion and current radical changes, within this paper, I will briefly focus on firstly the close relationship between identity and language use with a reference to its short historical progress, and then explain how my language use in online social networks has shaped or is shaping my identity. Finally, by giving examples from my case, I will also touch upon how one’s online identity gets closer to his/her real identity as a result of an intense integration of online world to our real life.
To begin with, technology has made a dramatic transformation on concepts like language use, literacy and identity. Today, a great amount of language learning process takes place through new media and learners are exposed to language input especially on online social networking communities. As they are doing all these activities as part of their personal interests or professional status, they are also guided by educators to benefit from or directly use those tools like Facebook, Twitter and etc. for academic purposes. Therefore, as also quoted by Blattner and Fiori (2011), Downes explains that being ‘literate’ traditionally meant to be able to read and write; however in modern society that definition has expanded. Our reliance on technological means of communication and especially Web 2.0 tools has dramatically impacted the way individuals interact and socialize with one another. In fact, as also discussed in Mills’ (2011) article, in addition to the cultivation of motivation and engagement, some suggest that the development of online profiles within social networks has a direct influence on the reinforcement of an individual’s identity since identity is co-constructed by both language use and socialization. Slater further suggests that the expression of online identity is performative and that you essentially ‘become what you type’ (Mills, 2011). As a matter of fact, this claim seems really far-fetched to me since online identity is just a part of one’s personal self, and people not only type but also speak their ideas or express them in many different ways. Moreover, the gap between the online worlds and real world gets less and less as individuals integrate technology and online communities into their face-to-face life. In fact, this issue is going to be discussed more at the final section of this paper, but what is commonly accepted by many is that people build their identities in a different way on online networking communities through the language they use when compared to their face-to-face self in real life. As a result, identity characterized as a very broad concept and shaped by many instruments is also constructed through the language we use. Since a considerable amount of language used today seems to be happening within online social communities, they might give a big clue about one’s sense of self and identity. Therefore, in the next section of this paper, I will reflect on the connection of my online identity and language use.
As for my online identity, it seems that it is mainly divided into two categories. On one hand, there is my identity within social networking communities like Facebook and Twitter, although I do occasionally use the latter. These two, especially me on Facebook, currently do not differ a lot from my face-to-face self in real life, the reason of which will be generalized and discussed later in this paper. On the other hand, I have my own website and blog which have been created recently, and which do not reveal a lot in terms of my real self and communicate my academic identity more. To start with my personal website (u.arizona.edu/~mpolat), one might only have some limited idea about my real self through some pictures and images, but regarding the overall concept and the language I am using there portrays me as a person who is highly academic. The language is totally in English and there is nothing in Turkish although the latter is my native language. Personally, I mostly use Turkish in my everyday life with my family and friends except for the ones who do not know Turkish, but my identity which has been constructed on this website seems to be really different since the target audience aimed there is my colleagues, employers and professors who are in the same field as me and a considerable number of whom do not speak Turkish. Afterwards, regarding my blog (imustafapolat.wordpress.com) where I am posting recently seems not much different from my website since the target audience is almost the same. However, regarding my academic tone, and register, it seems that I have made my identity just a little less academic (except for one post about ‘blended learning) and more intimate since blog-writing mostly requires such a language use in order not to bore the reader with a highly academic tone. To briefly refer to my twitter account (twitter.com/muspol), there is not much data to reflect on my identity there since I mostly use this tool to keep up-to-date with very recent news (like news about traffic) through its ‘discover’ tool. However, referring to my specific tweets, it seems that they were mostly in English at the beginning, which is interesting since all my followers were Turkish at the time, and later on, tweets are sent in both languages, but mostly in Turkish although there are followers who do not speak Turkish. Regarding the tone and register of the tweets, it seems that they have been written in a way as if I am talking to someone specific such as a politician, an authority figure or a TV channel although the intended audience are mostly my friends and family. As a result, as for my identity on Twitter, it seems that there is no identity built completely by taking all my tweets into consideration. Finally, as Reinhardt and Zander (2011) state, four hundred million people (the number is over even 1 billon regarding the current updates on social networking websites), approximately 6% percent of the planet, are active users of Facebook, the most popular of social-networking sites (SNSs). The average user spends more than an hour on the site, which is more than most of the activities done through an ordinary day. These numbers make Facebook a very effective ground for the members to portray their own identities. In order to do so, there are so many instruments like posting images, videos, sharing music, messaging, calling people and etc., almost all of which require people to use language. As for my Facebook account (facebook.com/summacumlaude), it seems that it is a little interesting and it portrays my online identity in a way which is more similar to my real face-to-face self compared with other online environments such as my personal webpage and blog which have a highly academic tone and not much information about my everyday life. To start with the differences, one interesting difference is again posting things in English especially when I first signed up for Facebook just like I used to do on Twitter, and the most probable reason for this is that Facebook used to be in English, not in Turkish in my country and there were only few contacts who can also speak English at that time. After family members and close friends or contacts were added as contacts, it seems that this difference has become less obvious. Moreover, as quoted in Mills (2011), consistent with Slater’s (2002) suggestion that you become what you type but just because of the tools in use on Facebook, it seems that my online identity is a kind of person who can express feelings instantly and on spot such as anger, happiness, and etc. by specifying even the relevant names although it is not the case in my real life most of the time. What’s more, regarding how I express myself, multimodality plays a very key role within social networking communities like Facebook. To illustrate, I often post pictures, sometimes videos, rarely songs on Facebook; however, it is not the case regarding face-to-face self that I show people pictures, share videos and songs with them. Therefore, at this point one becomes a kind of person within the limit of the opportunities and tools offered on a specific platform. Another difference between my online identity on Facebook and my real self is that the language I use on Facebook especially regarding instant messages which could be regarded as similar to spoken language in real life is a production of careful consideration although it is not the case in real spoken language. One important reason for this is that you have a chance to revise what you have written and correct your mistakes in spite of its being instant, but you cannot have this opportunity while speaking in real life. Hence, my online identity might be being reflected differently since it is not instant in real sense. One final difference which might also currently go under similarities is that, especially when I am posting on Facebook, my target audience is all the people in my contact list, so I have always this feeling that I have to pay attention not to bother anyone or argue with people and I try to avoid conflicts since a big part of communication is composed of face-to-face contact and body language. However, when I am talking to someone in real life, my target audience is not too large to think about what I am going to say twice, three times or more, and this necessarily causes a lot of differences in terms of language use. In fact, as it has been just mentioned, regarding the final difference stated above, the gap between my face-to-face self and online identity gets less and less evident, and I certainly believe that it is also the case for many except for the ones who have created false accounts. In the final section of this paper, then, I will discuss this situation and how it has become so.
Today, it is really apparent that technology is intertwined into our lives and rather than a world separated from the real world itself, it is as if it completes one’s face-to-face self. In other words, except for the false accounts especially on Facebook and similar social networking communities, people have similar contacts and they are creating a sort of timeline of their real life. As a result, with only some exceptions like easily joining various groups, people have similar identities both within online communities and their real life. To illustrate, regarding my own Facebook identity, it is not like I have different face-to-face self and considerably different online identity since I have the same contacts I have in my real life and I am always aware of the fact that I will seek those people’s company when I switch to real life. Therefore, it cannot be said that online identity of one is considerably different from his/her real self because the former is so intertwined into the latter that most people are aware of the fact that any possible clash between these two might cause some conflicts in their lives.
All in all, language and identity are closely linked to each other both in one’s face-to-face life and within online communities. In the past, prior to the advent of technology, identity used be constructed in a different way; however, today our identity is shaped in different ways as a result of online communities and multimodality. Depending on one’s purpose in these online communities and their target audience, individuals construct their identities differently as a result their communicative activities such as posting images, sending messages, sharing things, and etc. Personally, it seems that I have been constructing a different identity regarding my webpage and blog with strong focus on my academic self. However, as a result of a strong integration between my online identity on Facebook and face-to-face self, I cannot claim that it differs to a great extent from my face-to-face self as, I believe, it is also the case for most people using technology today,
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Mills, NA. (2011). “Situated learning through social networking communities: The development of joint enterprise, mutual engagement, and a shared repertoire.” … Theories, Technologies, and Language Learning ( … 28(2): 1–24. http://works.bepress.com/nicole_mills/33/ (October 18, 2013).
Reinhardt, J, and V Zander. (2011). “Social networking in an intensive English program classroom: A Language Socialization Perspective.” Calico Journal. http://www.u.arizona.edu/~jonrein/pubs/reinhardt_zander_2011_short.pdf (October 18, 2013).