It is very interesting to read about the responses of the scouts to your questions about on-line identity and avatars. As I said to you yesterday after your presentation, assumed identities in the on-line environment seem much more topic-specific rather than generational or gendered [and this is perhaps the biggest difference between online identities and real-world identities] and the scouts seem to support this opinion. For example, in an online forum for, let us say, Manchester United supporters, it won’t matter whether the members are old, young, black, white, male, female. All that counts is that they support Manchester United: the topic is everything, and it frames the parameters within which people choose identities. Therefore, very few people feel the need to reveal their real identities. In fact, if you visit such fora, many avatars will be built around the identities of actual or past members of the football team in question. So, on a Liverpool site you will find members like Torres4ever, Gerrard84, etc.
Now, on a forum where the topic is not the prime motivator, such as Facebook, then people are much more likely to assume their own, real-life, identities. I read about a very interesting example of this. When Second Life first emerged as a cultural phemomenon, one of the first social groups to swarm to it was the physically disabled. In the Second Life world, they were able to fly! They could transport themselves through a virtual-physical world without any problem whatsoever. They could assume avatars that made no reference whatsoever to their physical disabilities. In a sense, Second Life gave them a taste of what it would be like to be as able-bodied as anyone else.
However, the functioning of Second Life evolved. Where it had initially been a predominantly role-playing type of thing, it now became an extension or alternative of real-life. And a strange thing happened. Physically disabled people began to include wheelchairs with their avatars. Their disability was such an important part of their real-life identity that it became necessary for them to include it in their virtual identity.
So, I think this noition makes anomalies even more interesting. The example of the music teachers’ forum that you gave yesterday is a case in point. That is a forum that is topic driven, yet some people still felt the need to assume an identity and some felt the need to give their own real-life identity. Was this because of convention? Or their perception of convention? Or ignorance of convention? Or was it, as the scouts said, a means by which they could assume an identity and thereby contribute opinions that they were testing out? Perhaps assumed identities are a form of psychological play that enables people to experiment with identity-forming opinions and perspectives.
I think it would be interesting to guage the behaviour of the two types of forum members. Are those who assume identities more likely to post controversial opinions because their identities are hidden? Are they more likely to be rude? Are there more assumed identities on a topic-driven forum than a social networking forum? (I think the answer would be a definite yes to that last question).
p.s. I decided to try to post in reply to your Muppetman posting rather than comment, and thereyby keep the blog ticking along on the most recently updated blogs hit-list.