Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Virtual Identities

Whilst researching for my last assignment I met a young man who found solace in the internet by creating virtual identities to escape his real life. It began at fourteen: he was 5’3, 105kg, with terrible acne, was tormented at school and had few friends. His first foray into the world of online chat rooms was not successful as he signed in as himself with a webcam and experienced the same vicious bullying and persecution from the other users as he had received in the real world. Upset and angry, he signed out of his account, spent five minutes creating a new one and logged back in. He was a hit. Guys and girls were eager to chat; treating him as an equal and more importantly as a friend. He explains that this was due to the fact that his new identity was in fact that of a seventeen year old girl, whose interests included cheerleading and computer games. He created this persona based on what he himself found desirable in the opposite sex, someone who was not only sporty and popular, but was also a bit of a computer geek. From this moment on, the internet became a sanctuary for him, where he experienced acceptance and respect. It was a means for him to converse and interact with his peers, free from the social persecution he had previously experienced. From here on he created and used many different online personas, from doctors and lawyers to artists and students. Although he was pretending to be someone else onscreen, the opinions, thoughts and knowledge he expressed were all his. He explains that virtual identities provided him with the opportunity to work through and explore personal thoughts and issues. The internet was a therapeutic tool, within which he could express himself totally whilst maintaining complete anonymity and control through his virtual identities. It was an outlet for him, as it is for many others, which provided respite from his problems and daily frustrations in his real life due to the constant tormenting he received at the hands of his cruel and shallow peers. He created different virtual identities that mirrored certain aspects of his personality, allowing him to fully express and explore his true self. By working through his issues online, he was able to alleviate his anger and frustration with the real world through conversation and interaction with like minded people. This emotional therapy was, in no doubt his saviour from becoming bitter, resentful and self-destructive. Through his many virtual representations of his self in cyber space, he found the respect and love he was denied in the real world, which suggests that the internet has much more value to our everyday lives than we had previously expected.


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