Digital Natives, pt. 2

I’ve already made you guys wait so long for this installment that a witty introduction to the post will just further the delay, so here goes!

In the last installment, I discussed the ramifications of having such a large selection of mediums to communicate through. The conclusion was, as crystallized in Brendan and Tim’s comments (thanks!), that in the digital age content has in some ways merged with the medium, such that the way a message is sent from party A to party B actually imparts meaningful information about tone, turning the choice of medium into an arena for expression. I now want to expand on that argument and claim that in the world of a D_, almost every action online can be considered an expressive act and that what sets them apart from non-savvy users is an awareness about this.

Since a D_ presumably spends a large chunk of their lives online, it stands to reason that they would monitor their online reputation just as closely as they would their offline reputation. On the internet, just as in real life, there are two major types of reputation–that which mostly everyone knows or can find out about, and your personality, which I would argue is just a sort of intimate reputation among people who know you.

So first, public reputation. Online, this essentially boils down to what turns up when you Google. It is out of the question that anyone who might be considered a D_ would have only circumstantial evidence of their web presence–undoubtedly, there is a user profile or a blog floating out there. Just like in real life, some are more noteworthy than others and will have interviews and biographies floating around, too. Just as an offline public reputation is built through notable accomplishments and important career choices, so these monuments dedicated to description and expression create the public persona of the D_. However, many people construct profiles on MySpace, etc. without really being D_ caliber–so what differentiates?

One common trait I’ve seen amongst people that I have considered D_s is the understanding, expressed or subconscious, that expression on the web is not limited to the spaces labeled “About Me”. Indeed, one of the most tell-tale signs of a so-called “Digital Immigrant” is the misuse of the “About Me” area to actually try to describe their entire personality. Finding out about someone online is different from getting to know them in real life because a ton of information is available for scrutiny. Instead of necessarily having to ask someone about what they did last summer, it’s easy to find the corresponding Flickr album and form assumptions (however inaccurately) about their personality without ever talking about the subject. This means that to project a persona, one must walk the walk first and foremost before even worrying about the talk.

The digitally expressive (is this better?) understand this, and find niches everywhere for their expression. A trail of Twitter statuses, no matter how trivial it seems, is an essential place for expression. Though theoretically it has another use–updating friends on what you are doing–its usefulness as a vehicle for personality takes precedence. Similarly, everything from picture captions and album titles on Flickr to the exact order of the songs reported to Last.fm are often groomed by D_s who are conscious of their entire presence online. And the “About Me” section? Well, that becomes important in a meta sort of way, where exactly what you choose to use it for rather than the actual content becomes an important indicator of your personality.

I guess my argument is that while anyone who uses the internet understands that the things they do there will affect their online reputation, D_s are the ones who understand how widely that applies and are willing to engage in this ubiquitous expression. I’m liking the term “Digitally Expressive”–what about you guys?

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