Saturday, January 31, 2009

Me, Myself and My Screen: Multiplicity, Identity and Email

We live in a world of “more is better”. Let’s face it, we like collecting stuff. More food, more cars, more electronic gadgets—more…email addresses?

Be honest folks. You probably have at least two email addresses.
A 2007 poll suggests that 94% of American email users have at least two email accounts, and many have significantly more. Look at me--I have four.

The interesting thing about this is not so much its ability to reflect our culture of
conspicuous consumption (although I think it does that) but as a clear indication of the multiplicity of our identities.

Postmodern cultural theorists like
Jean Baudrillard subscribe to the idea that our identities are multiple and changeable. This is to say that we don’t each have one fixed, stable identity, but rather many, fluid identities, which we don to relate to different people, places, things and even times. It’s difficult to conceptualize when it comes to our physical, real-life identities, but becomes clearer when we consider our online identities.

Think about your different email accounts. You probably have one account that you use just for family and friends. Your address is probably casual, clever, or silly, something like “”or “” In addition, you might have another email address that you use for professional purposes, for example for business-related correspondence. This address is probably more sedate, consisting or your name or initials, such as “” or “” If you’re a university student, you probably have an account for contacting your professors or fellow students. You might have even more if you work for a large corporation, have your own business, or communicate with different social groups.

You can see that each of these email addresses has a distinct purpose. They each represent a facet of your identity, or, according to Baudrillard one of multiple identities. Think about what each address says about you. Does one imply an identity as a student? As a businessperson? As a somewhat kooky yet lovable friend or family member? What do all of these things taken together say about you as a person?

It's a lot to think about, but it's helpful when it comes to determining how the choices we make online contribute to identity formation.

1 comment:

  1. I've got three myself. One for school. One for friends and family. And one for subscribing to any website that might sent me spam, or for going to sites that I'd like to keep spaced from what people might happen upon in my other emails (such as, lets say, hacking).

    Nothing like controlling what people see about us to create the identity they perceive. ;)