by Dan Wade, Activation Lead, LockerDome
Despite all efforts to the contrary, the vast majority of Internet users will never form a single digital identity.
As early as 2007, the term “digital schizophrenia” was being used to address the idea of a disparity between users’ real lives and the ones they were creating online, though at the time it was used in closer connection with massive multiplayer online role-playing games like Second Life and World of Warcraft. The term itself is problematic not only because it perpetuates a common confusion between two actual psychological diagnoses – schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder (DID) – but also because the lack of a formal definition means it can be used to decry any number of perceived issues having loosely to do with how identity works outside of physical spaces rather than highlighting a specific problem.
Within social media, the term is normally used to describe users’ desire to create multiple identities on a single platform or to keep identities restricted within the bounds of one platform rather than using it to authenticate another; e.g. never using Facebook to post a comment on an outside article or preventing Instagram from connecting to Twitter. This is often tied to security or privacy concerns, and while Facebook recently announced plans to address these issues by giving users the ability to authenticate other apps using their Facebook account without giving away personal information, privacy isn’t the only reason users choose not to link accounts.
Proponents of a more cohesive online experience laud the ability to move from one site to another without having to log in with different accounts at each stop, viewing a litany of usernames and passwords as vestiges of an era without better choices. As sharing options have gotten more granular on social graph-based platforms like Facebook and Google+ however, there is a near compulsion for people to connect — even if they don’t subsequently share — the disparate parts of their digital life around a single hub. Platforms that already link users with the people they know see the next level of connections not between people, but between their existing users and the other aspects of their digital life.
This brings them into conflict with interest-graph based platforms like Twitter, Pinterest, LockerDome, Reddit and others that give their users the choice of whether to connect their identities or leave them more clearly delineated. This is probably the largest misconception surrounding digital schizophrenia: The opposite of a single digital identity isn’t the full anonymity offered by things like Whisper, Secret, or 4chan: it’s simply offering users the choice up front about how interconnected they want their experience to be.
This is where an evocative naming scheme and reality come into conflict: While it would be exceptionally difficult to argue against effective treatments for true schizophrenia or DID, digital identities simply do not abide by the same rules. No matter how many sites, apps, portals, and platforms users connect around a single hub, there will always be aspects of users’ real lives they choose to exclude. This process of identity curation inherently produces a digital identity that diverges from the real one.
The flexibility of the phrase digital schizophrenia means it’s unlikely to ever leave the tech lexicon, but continuing to give users the freedom to shape their own experience is far more important than eradicating any single term. Even overlooking sharing options at the hub, forcing a unification of a user’s social graph and their interest graph is unlikely to produce the dreamed-of result of a single digital self, and instead simply dissuade users from interacting genuinely either socially or with the things that interest them.
As the Activation Lead for LockerDome, Dan Wade builds and executes campaigns for brands, media companies, professional sports teams, and a variety of other organizations on top of LockerDome’s swiftly growing platform and highly coveted user base. LockerDome has been called “Facebook on steroids” and a “future Wall Street darling” by MarketWatch, named one of Forbes magazine’s “2013 Sports Names You Need to Know”, and labeled by Adweek as “in the center of the digital revolution.”
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