Discussion | Self-Identification Online

This week, in the midst of trying to put more care into my online outlets, I actually took a proper look at my online profiles and realised that perhaps it was time for an update. My Twitter profile, for example, still listed me as an English literature student – a fact I still can’t seem to let go despite the fact I graduated in December. So it’s safe to say that it required some changes, as difficult as that might be for me to admit. But, as soon as I clicked on that ‘Edit Profile’ button, I paused. I realised quite abruptly that I didn’t know how to define myself. Who was I? What did anyone online need to know about me? What did they really need to know my location, my nationality, my age, my Hogwarts house?

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This is something I’ve always struggled with. I’ve never been very good at, nor quite comfortable, writing ‘About Me’ pages – this blog’s ‘About‘ page is testament to that fact, as I lean more on other peoples’ quotes to reveal something intrinsic about myself. The less ‘public’ my profiles are, the more I am unapologetically myself, and less anxious about how I come across. (This is most apparent in my personal tumblr, the url of which I will never openly share but, trust me, at the moment it’s just a shameful amount of The Night Manager gifs.) Conversely, when asked to introduce myself or, worse still, provide a ‘fun fact’ about myself in icebreaker situations in new classes or group interviews, I blank entirely. In the past the ‘fun fact’ I’ve provided is that (touch wood) I’ve never broken a bone in my body. Yes the term ‘fun’ is debatable, but it is factual. From casual icebreakers to online profiles, I have always struggled with how to identify myself appropriately for the context. I notice this most acutely online, however, so it’s that which I’m going to concentrate on discussing for the purposes of this post.

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As you can see from the image above of my Goodreads and Instagram accounts, none of my profiles are streamlined, and that’s because I can’t settle on one witty, clever, snappy ‘about me’. To me, it’s a big ask – to be able to sum yourself up succinctly in one line.

There are, of course, the tried and tested common and generally accepted ways of identifying yourself. By your gender or by your sexuality or by your location or by your age or by your job. Any way of identifying yourself (online or otherwise) illustrates what you either consider as priorities, what it is that is intrinsic to your identity, or what others define you by. And to make it even more confusing, it’s often a blurry line between these. For example, whilst at university, a flatmate tried to get me onside a good old fashioned county-based rivalry between Yorkshire and Lancashire. Lancaster, my university town, was located in the county of Lancashire yet two of the girls in my flat hailed from Yorkshire. Where I’m from is ambiguous… it doesn’t quite belong technically to Yorkshire yet all you need to do is cross the river into the bordering town and I would be technically within the county boundary of North Yorkshire. Because of this ambiguity, I’ve never used my location to define my identity… I would never identify as a Yorkshireman or a Teessider, though I know some people who proudly would. To me, where I happen to live in the country isn’t a priority to my identity, it’s incidental to it – other people outside of the area might use it as my identifier, since I do have a hint of a Teesside accent, but I wouldn’t initially identify myself simply by where I happen to have been born/live.

Likewise, for me, my age is pretty much arbitrary – and, to be honest, I don’t want to accept the fact that I’m heading towards my mid twenties without having accomplished all that much living. Similarly, after graduation, it seems less relevant to define yourself by your education. When I was at university I used to have my degree course and year of study listed, since that was basically what my identity amounted to at that point. For me, and for other people, these were common touchstones that were useful for the initial connection and introduction to each other. And that’s essentially what such identification comes down to – using labels as common touchstones of understanding so other people ‘know you’, or at least enough about you, even when meeting you for the first time.

But, online, in the world of fandoms and memes, there are other touchstones that the online community has in common. First of all, there’s the “purpose” of the online presence – people identify themselves as lifestyle bloggers, book bloggers, booktubers, vloggers… and so on. Further into the world of fandoms you can identify yourself by the films, the tv shows, video games, books, that you read. From fan base names such as Trekkies and Whovians, to Directioners and Beliebers, to Cumberbitches and Hiddlestoners, individuals find labels useful touchstones to interact with others in the community. It is up for debate whether this self-identification is more for your own benefit, or for others’. Certainly from my point of view, I reblog a hell of a lot of Tom Hiddleston related posts on Tumblr, but I wouldn’t really call myself a Hiddlestoner, nor would I consider myself particularly ‘in’ that community online.

Likewise, I’ve previously done the MBTI personality quiz to figure out ‘what’ I am – INFJ or ENFJ, I’ve taken the quiz twice – but even that sent me into a bit of a spin when it once identified me as an extroverted person. Meanwhile Harry Potter fans everywhere use Hogwarts houses to help identify their personality succinctly to others – Ravenclaw or Gryffindor, depending on 2 Pottermore sortings, another quiz that sent me into a spin since I’d always thought I was Ravenclaw, no questions asked, and yet it initially sorted me into the house of the lion. I mean really, me? Brave? No thank you.

It’s at this point that I come full-circle. There was a time in my teenage years when I would identify as a Ravenclaw in most online bios, because that seemed to be a culturally common currency – if you said you were a Ravenclaw people understood what priorities you had and therefore what kind of person you were. That’s not to say that people nowadays don’t see the world in Harry Potter terms because I’m sure a lot of people still do (myself included). However, at this stage in my life, I am post-graduation and floundering to figure out what kind of career I am qualified for and/or interested in (the two aren’t necessarily mutual), so I don’t even know how to identify myself online. What snappy one-line bio would define me?

Well… I’m Emma. I’m 23 and was born in October. I read books. I drink coffee (splash of milk, one sugar, thanks) and I inhale Italian food whenever it’s set in front of me. I have a small box bedroom and yet far too many books for my/its own good. I live in Teesside but dream of elsewhere. I live vicariously through others because I don’t have the confidence they do. I think I want to work in publishing. Maybe I want to work in communications. I did an English BA and MA and after four years came to the conclusion that being allowed to talk about Shakespeare with like-minded people for 4 years was brilliant and not to be taken for granted. I’m generally a cynical (read: pessimistic… read: negative) individual who wishes she had faith enough in herself to be an optimist. I’m Emma.


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2 thoughts on “Discussion | Self-Identification Online

  1. Heather 05/04/2016 / 00:54

    I love this – I’ve always had much the same problem. Everyone else sounds so cool in their about me/bios and I’m just like, “yeah that sounds ok I guess”.

    • Emma 06/04/2016 / 16:05

      Thank goodness someone feels the same! There is this weird desire on the Internet to sound cool and interesting in like one or two sentences and it’s really hard to actually compose, I envy people with witty bios :P

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