Not long ago, an Internet profile was nothing more than an avatar representing the person we ultimately wished we could be. For better or for worse, embellishing our public image was the norm and being able to truly know someone online was virtually impossible. But with the growth of social media, the line between our digital selves and our physical selves has blurred, and perhaps has dissapeared entirely.
Thanks largely to Facebook — and to an extent Twitter, LinkedIn, and other various web applications — who we appear to be on the Internet is very much a part of who we are in the physical world. We document our lives online as significant events occur, and the documentation is overwhelmingly honest. We appear on Facebook to our friends, family and peers as we appear to them at work or in class.
The phenomenon of our digital lives and physical lives blending together to form a cohesive representation of our true selves can be attributed to a number of circumstances. The pervasive nature of Facebook ensures the social network is present in almost every aspect of our lives. When we shop, watch TV, attend events or track down old friends, Facebook is with us every step of the way.
And as the population continues to become more and more tethered to smartphones and tablets, social media is at our fingertips 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This constant connection and exposure demands that our digital representations be closely attuned to our physical words, thoughts and actions.
Consider the modern colloquialism "Facebook official," which has become a big step in any relationship. This is a concrete example showing that what we share on various social networks heavily influences our identity in the physical world.
Consider, also, the heightened importance placed on our online image with regard to professional opportunity and conduct. Samples of information about ourselves posted to Facebook or Twitter can help or destroy opportunities.
An overlooked photo could cause a potential employer to go in a different direction, while genuine skills encompassing connecting to others on the web can open new doors. And what we say online while working a current job can influence our standing within our company or organization.
Because these once separate identities are merging into one, continuity asks us to avoid differentiating our digital presence and our physical presence with the phrase "real life." Our words and ideas trickling down a newsfeed are no less real than the nametags we wear at a meet and greet or on the job.
And while we should always be careful about whom we connect with online and how we establish those connections — reflect upon the popular documentary and subsequent television program "Catfish” — our definition of online privacy is slowly but surely evaporating. As a result, we must act, and post status updates, accordingly. We are online who we are in a classroom or office.