The Internet is a powerful, inexorable force that has seized the planet and smudged previously distinct national

boundaries. With a mere click of the mouse, users are able to gain access to a plethora of digital information, which has become the main mode of interaction between users all over the globe. Just like the real world, the virtual world has enabled certain groups of people who share common interests, characteristics, ideas or visions to come together to form communities. These digital communities can take the forms of online blogs, forums, social networking websites like MySpace, Facebook, Xanga and Friendster and also Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) like Second Life and World Of Warcraft. Many a times, people join these digital communities in the bid to identify and personalise a set of behavourial characteristics which allows them to be easily distinguishable from others and be recognised as unique individuals. The creation of virtual identities in digital communities allows people to go beyond the realms of reality to pursue their ideal identities but it may be detrimental to their social well-being. In real life, people do not always have choices. This is clearly evident in terms of our genders, appearances and the environments in which we were brought up. Now, through digital communities, people are given an unprecedented chance to ‘recreate’ and pursue their ideal identities on the virtual platform; they are endowed with the freedom of choice, speech, behaviour and action to mould their new, ideal identities. This may seem purely beneficial. However, if they are too reliant upon or too engrossed in the virtual identities in which they find immense satisfaction, they may not be able to extricate themselves from the identities. As such, they will pay less attention to, or even neglect their private identities, which I believe are the fundamental building blocks of their social well-being. With less real-life, faceto-face social interaction, their social well-being will thus be negatively affected.

(2007) My point is further supported by the article “Identity Production in a Networked Culture: Why Youth Heart MySpace”. the users can do and experience almost anything in Second Life – starting new businesses. People can fulfill their dreams. as they are usually .8) To begin with. para. digital technologies allow youth to (re)create private and public youth space while physically in controlled spaces”. (Bennett & Beith. 2007. people who are physically and mentallyhandicapped are given the liberty to pursue their ideal identities and lifestyles. (Bennett & Beith. Moreover. (2007) The virtual identities.24) She feels great happiness and satisfaction to be able to carry out all the activities that she has yearned for. who suffers from a “severe and chronic pain disorder that now keeps her at home.The article “Alternate Universe” by Jessica Bennett and Malcolm Beith discusses the motivations behind identity production through Second life and highlights that Second Life brings about more positive than negative impacts to society. 2007. and not the general population. There are literally “no regulations” nor restrictions being placed on the avatars in this “digital landscape”. the users are free to dress their avatars in whatever way they like. assuming different roles and genders and even engaging in relationships with someone whom they are not familiar with. On a more advanced level. they get to choose who to collaborate with to form their own sub-community inside Second Life. created through Second Life enable the people to break away from the restraints of reality to pursue their ideal identities. more commonly known as avatars.” (Bennett & Beith.30) Undoubtedly. It propagates the idea that “By going virtual. choose their preferred place and environment to live in and also communicate with specific users. para. (2006. Furthermore. execute ideas and plans which they have always desired in their private lives – all of which are highly impossible to be accomplished in reality. some people may feel that this statement only applies to youth. written by Danah Boyd. 2007) For instance. Second Life has “opened up another world” for Elizabeth Ward. para.

With virtual identities in the digital communities. people can break free from the constraints of reality and present their true. para. eliminating real-life. face-to-face social interaction that is essential to their social well-being.22) This scenario has also been proven by Bennett and Beith. one must be aware that these identities are actually facades – superficial representations of themselves. hanging out has moved online”. The former may actually enhance their social wellbeing if they can apply the same interaction skills used online to communicate and interact with real people more effectively. pertaining to a larger audience. They comment that “Some critics are uneasy with the idea of people’s getting more and more of their social activity online” and that “[virtual worlds] don’t have the nuance of face-to-face interaction. 2006) However. like the handicapped and those who yearn to fulfill their dreams. Without this need to . some may contend that these people are in actual fact interacting with real human beings behind the screen. (Boyd. social interactions or simply substituting them. Although the virtual identities allow people to break away from the realms of society. Hence.” (2007. whether or not there is really a lack of social interaction actually depends on the individuals – whether they treat the virtual interactions as complements to their private. I opine that it highlights the same idea that the virtual world has revealed new worlds for those who are physically and mentally confined in society. the people behind these virtual identities lack the real-life. inner identities. On the other hand. As such. para. They do not have the pressure to uphold certain identities or images that are deemed politically correct by the society. (2006.being kept under adult surveillance and are physically bound by the adults. they assert that people actually have social interaction despite the donning of masks online.23) However. face-to-face social interactions totally will definitely be detrimental to their social well-being. Boyd analyses that “For many teens. and permits them to pursue their ideal identities. On a lighter note.

. para.” (2006.17) People in digital communities. Yet. arguing that the digital does not replace the physical. explore and experiment with identity. Bennett and Beith observe that “A recent Dutch study found that 57 percent of Second Lifers spend more than 18 hours a week there. feelings and personalities. This is no doubt true. Also. para. if people spend so much time online creating or adopting virtual identities. This is illustrated by Bennett and Beith. Boyd notes that “adults often worry about the amount of time that youth spend online. can actually portray their true identities and drive the ‘intended’ messages across to their targeted audience.” (2006. without the need to conform to social norms. that Second Life “provides people with a way to express.conform to social norms.23) The time management issue is in fact very crucial. they may be too engrossed in the identities that they are unable to detach themselves from the virtual world. reveal alter egos. and 33 percent spend more than 30 hours a week. This may become undesirable and will affect their social well-being if they eventually lose touch with reality and do not interact face-to-face with real life people. such as the MySpace users. Boyd sees that “[MySpace] profiles provide an opportunity to craft the intended expression through language.7) Similarly. Despite the various benefits that the creation of virtual identities brings about.6) People can display their suppressed feelings such as anger without any considerations on the virtual platform and this is beneficial. they can demonstrate their actual and inner behaviour.” (2007. This is especially important in the process of identity production – creating a genuine identity that best represents oneself.” (2007. para. para. imagery and media. vent their frustrations. many are concerned about the amount of time spent in the process. Some people may argue that the time spent online creating their ideal virtual identities is definitely worth it because the identities will grant them the satisfaction that they will never be able to experience in reality.

para. 2007.22) For instance. para. It is this rare feeling of . such as MySpace and Facebook. social networking websites. This empowers them because they know that their profiles have impacts on how people perceive them.” (2006.6) The profiles give the users means to assert themselves and emphasise their individual preferences. para. (2007. 2007) Without Second Life.” (Bennett & Beith. (Bennett & Beith. she gained prominent. Yet. empower people. She began her journey as an insignificant avatar in Second Life in the bid to prove if the “virtual economy” can “sustain” private lives. 2006. 2006. even through basic interactions like giving self-introductions and starting conversations. they will feel empowered if their names appear on their friends’ profiles because it shows others how popular they are. patients with Asperger’s syndrome possess innate difficulty in engaging in social interaction. para. Another example would be the case of Anshe Chung. 2007) This really shows how Second Life empowers a previously powerless or subordinated group or individual. by giving them means to assert themselves. Boyd states that “an individual’s “Top 8” friends are displayed on the front page of their [MySpace] profile. (Bennett & Beith. outstanding recognition by becoming “Second Life’s first millionaire in 2006. their lives will be monotonous and they will never be able to experience interacting with others.15.7) As people “jockey for social status” and “popularity” and are concerned about how they are perceived by others (Boyd. Also. Bennett and Beith analyse that patients who are mentally and physically disabled are “learning to interact in ways that would be terrifying for them in real life”.Virtual identities provide people with the empowerment that is rare and difficult to be established in reality. “[MySpace] profiles are personalised to express an individual’s interests and tastes. para. in the process.” (Boyd. Moreover.3) This is an obvious case in which virtual identities provide empowerment and motivation to people. 20). thoughts of the day and values.

Thus. The creation of virtual identities through digital communities certainly provides an alternative avenue for the exploration of identities as it allows people to go beyond the realms of realism to seek their ideal identities. it has really benefitted a large population. .24). be it in terms of fulfilling dreams and desires. Yet. the unprecedented creation of virtual identities in the virtual world is certainly “captivating the globe” (Bennett & Beith. presentation of true selves or the provision of empowerment. 2007. para.empowerment which motivates and brings an exponentially-increasing number of people to these digital communities to create their virtual identities. people must be fully aware of their own priorities and aim to strike a balance between their private and virtual identities to enhance or even maintain their social well-being. excessive adoption of virtual identities will be harmful to the social well-being of individuals as they will have less real-life. face-to-face social interactions with people in the real world. Nevertheless. As such. I believe digital communities will continue to grow and maintain its status as the main mode of borderless communication in the years to come.

J. from http://www. & Beith.References Bennett. Boyd.danah. 2008. D. (2006.org/papers/talks/AAAS2006. Retrieved September 16. February 19). 2008. from romance to making money.. It may be the internet's next big thing. July 30). Identity Production in a Networked Culture: Why Youth Heart MySpace. Second Life is emerging as a powerful new medium for social interactions of all sorts.html . M. from ProQuest database. Alternate Universe. (2007. Retrieved September 16.