In the Turkle reading she speaks about Identity and how it can easily become blurred on the internet. She speaks about the different places (such as MUDs) where identity is so easily changed and manipulated that it is impossible to know who someone really is. The internet provides a place where people can recreate themselves. The socially lost and forgotten can become popular in their own online community, and physical appearance has absolutely no effect on a persons appearance on the screen. This blurring and shaping of identity can be a very good thing for people such as the boy who was able to start expressing his true self online and work on bringing out different parts of himself through his online avatar. He said that he was able to work on certain withdrawn characteristics of himself on the internet, then apply what he learned in the real world. In this way he was able to shape who he really was in the anonymous world of an online community. This is one way that internet forums and MUDs can be useful, but there are other more sinister ways the internet can effect people as well. For better or for worse, one guy was able to get out all of his anger and frustrations he accumulated in the real world by harassing and even cyber raping people on the internet. Due to the anonymity of chat rooms and MUDs, he could relieve his anger by taking it out on people he didnt know on the internet. He thinks it is beneficial because it does not actually hurt anyone physically, but this is uncertain. For someone who invests much of their time in their online avatar, to the point where the line between their online selves and real selves becomes hard to define, having their internet personae raped could be incredibly harmful psychologically. Turkle touches on this subject, but also moves on to other topics such as internet relationships. One man began talking with a person on the internet in a MUD and eventually they grew so attached that they decided to get married in the MUD. This not only effected the online world, but real people also "living" in the MUD got together at the server computer's location and physically celebrated. This is an odd concept, because while someone could be honestly portraying themselves in their online avatar, they could just as easily be a very motivated actor and be someone completely different. Without physically meeting someone it is nearly impossible to gain a complete and full understanding of them. And even meeting someone in real life doesnt allow you to know exactly who they are at first, if ever. Identity is a very strange thing when looked at through the lens of a researcher on the internet. Turkle talks about how someone can spend so many hours on an internet MUD that it can take over their real life, becoming more important to the person than the real world thats happening around them. As computers developed and advanced, people became able to leave their MUD online while they were at work and even sleeping, in this way people would never leave their online world, and their online character would practically take over their real life. While identity changing and being able to recreate one's self can prove beneficial in forging online relationships, it can be used in different ways as well.
One example that comes to mind when I think of identity and the molding and shaping of it is Neil Patrick Harris' character on "How I Met your Mother". This is a great show and the character, "Barney", is hilarious. The reason I think of this show and Barney in particular is that Barney's main goal in life is to sleep with women, and he goes about this by creating insane stories about himself and essentially new "characters" whenever he is at a bar trying to meet a girl. He is all about sleeping with women and never speaking to them again, and he does this by rarely revealing his true identity. In one episode he pretends to be an astronaut going to space the next day, which makes a girl want to go home with him, since being an astronaut is pretty impressive I suppose. The point is, he recreates his identity each time as a way of staying anonymous in the real world, so that he does not gain too much of a reputation for his shenanigans. This relates directly to what Turkle talks about because essentially Barney does what people on these internet chat rooms and MUDs do all the time, make someone up, and become them to satisfy some sort of personal gain or desire. The experience does definitely change between being online and being in person, but if you are anonymous, as Barney is to the girls he meets, than you are able to do the same thing regardless of if its online or not. This last assignment we did on AIM was also an eye opener and brought up some new questions of identity. I was speaking with two people and I had no idea if who I was talking to was portraying their true selves or they were just putting on an act. It really made me question the honesty of the person I was speaking with, because while they were very cordial and nice on the chat, they could have been messing with me. My experience with this project was fairly low-key because I only chatted with my people a totally of about 5 times, but it was not too crazy of an experience.
The main thing I realized through studying Turkle's readings and experiencing anonymous chat myself is that trust is the main thing that is distorted when dealing with virtual identities. It is impossible to trust somebody who you cannot see because reading someone's body language and hearing their tone is very important to forging a relationship. You can much better judge someone's validity when you are with them than when the only connection you have is text on a screen. It allows people to recreate themselves to be whomever they want. This can allow unsavory characters to trick unsuspecting MUD users or just chat room users into thinking they're someone nice when really they're devious and misleading. In this way, I believe MUDs can be either a good thing or a bad thing. They can either allow people to express their true selves without the binds of physical appearance or social reputation, or they can allow people to gain the trust of other internet users and then betray that trust in terrible ways like cyber rape or bullying. But the internet still continues to grow, and though the days of MUDs are over, the future of the internet is social networking, so new dangers caused by identity uncertainty will just continue.