Has the Internet forever changed the development of human identity?

The NY Times Magazine recently published this article on how the archival nature of the Web has made it possible for information released onto the Internet to circulate forever. The article begins by recounting examples of people who have been embarrassed or otherwise impacted by photos, blog posts, or other personal information that emerged years later – Exhibit A is Pennsylvania woman Stacy Snyder, who was thrown out of her college’s teacher training program after photos of her dressed as a ‘drunken pirate’ surfaced on MySpace.

The media has offered up many similar examples of people’s past postings or statements coming back to haunt them, but the most interesting part of the article is its analysis of what this new reality might mean for the development of human identity (at least in cultures or settings where Internet access is ubiquitous):

The hope that we could carefully control how others view us in different contexts has proved to be another myth. As social-networking sites expanded, it was no longer quite so easy to have segmented identities: now that so many people use a single platform to post constant status updates and photos about their private and public activities, the idea of a home self, a work self, a family self and a high-school-friends self has become increasingly untenable. In fact, the attempt to maintain different selves often arouses suspicion. Moreover, far from giving us a new sense of control over the face we present to the world, the Internet is shackling us to everything that we have ever said, or that anyone has said about us, making the possibility of digital self-reinvention seem like an ideal from a distant era.


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