Different hats or, I meta on and on about online identity

had a lecture yesterday in my “electronic cultures” class about identity online, and it triggered some interesting ideas in my wee little brain. i have been reading a wide variety of books about online communities and such as of late for my lit review, and i have been enthralled by how much emphasis academics put on the individual’s ability to adopt different personas in cyberspace that they wouldn’t be able to IRL. for example, in MUD or MMORPGs or even metaverses like second life, you are able to play in different genders, racial or ethnic identities, ages, or whatever. i think i give a different answer to the question “where are you from?” in SL every time someone asks it. why do i have to be a canadian every time? i enjoy how people react to and conceptualize you differently depending on how you answer the question.

some examples:

australian: something about the weather being amazing, or how lucky i am
british: i’ve gotten a type of referral almost, like a sense of being more “cultured” or whatever
new zealander: usually just a question about what it’s like to live there. most people say they’ve never met a new zealander before.
canadian: many people profess to love canada, or make a remark about the cold weather. americans tend to give us a kind of kid-brother high-five, because we have so much shared history and whatnot.

note, however, that i always pick western, european, and english-speaking countries that have a kind of shared heritage. i wonder what would happen if i said japanese or mexican or south african or french… perhaps i should try it, and see what sort of reaction i get. i would feel like i was “masquerading” or something, i think. what would happen if i played a male, even?

i’ve started using the word “mate” when i talk to people, or “bloody” or something, which leads people to automatically assume i’m british. i get that a lot, actually – people assuming i’m from the UK because of the slang words i choose to use. “no worries”, “i reckon”, or ending a sentence with “hey” (the same way canadians use “eh”) hints at an aussie… i find these things really fascinating. i don’t really plan them. but out they come, and people make their subconscious evaluation of my country of origin. i think it’s fascinating, really. i wish sometimes that i was doing my MA on second life, because i think there’s so much going on there that is begging to be studied.

but the point of this post was actually to discuss how these things happen IRL just as often as they do online or in SL. i wear different hats, as it were, every day. code-switching, i believe is the term in anthropology. some examples: i speak different to women than men, to groups than individuals, to people here than people back home, to native english speakers than to non-english speakers, to other canadians or americans than to aussies, to my friends than to my professors, to strangers than to close friends, to office staff differently depending on their rank… the list goes on and on and one. and differently again in SL versus telephone versus internet phone versus email versus IMS versus face-to-face. i write differently for my LJ than i do for my blog, even. it’s amazing how our brains automatically evaluate the situation and all the factors relating to it and make the mostly unconscious decision on how to act in each case.

social context, medium of communication, intended audience, etc. etc. – all these things influence every word we say and how we say it.

god, i love language…. i’m wondering now what kinds of implications this might have for my own research into vidding and vidders, actually. self-presentation of people in LJ? how the community may conceptualize themselves individually or as a group as “vidders”, in relation or opposition to other types of fans. i think my brain works laterally, for some reason, and not logically, which can be confusing for anyone outside my own head. please forgive me if this makes no sense to you. it sounds more like a stream-of-consciousness every time i look it over.

what hats do you wear?

(also, i just found out from one of my books (crystal’s “language and the internet”) that the term “spam” in regards to junk-mail originated from a 1970s monty python sketch. who knew?)


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