Today we had an interesting talk from Dr Wendy Moncur who spoke about online identities and how these change as we go through periods of change i.e. having a baby, going through a break up or retiring.

Dr Moncur raised many interesting points about how our digital and physical lives overlap and when social or digital life actually begins. You might narrow life down to birth and death, but an unborn fetus may have its recorded heartbeat posted on social media and yet it is old enough to have a social life? Algorithms now allow twitter to continue to post tweets in your written style after you have passed on and people continue to message and post to dead celebrities’ pages as if they were alive, which would suggest that it is very hard to digitally ‘die’.

Technology and our digital presences are so interwoven with everyday, physical life; much of the data we share through technology influences our physical lives i.e. using a supermarket club card can tailor the junk mail that gets sent to your address. Data on social habits is often sold to companies and you quickly come to ask which of your own data or media do you actually own once it is shared digitally.

Dr Moncur discussed a study she conducted on individuals who had recently gone through a break-up with their co-inhabiting partner. 1/3 of marital break-downs are now blamed on social media. Generally we can say that technology and the digital world have made modern-day breakups more difficult. When someone has broken up with their partner and often wants to distance themselves from the other, they are confronted with a online story, with photographs in a digital trail through social media, with joint accounts that they can no longer access and with the problem of how to broadcast their post-breakup self across the internet. One participant in Dr Moncur’s study commented how she was sad to loose all her music and playlists which she had kept on a joint account with her partner whilst another said how her breakup became even more painful and complicated because she and her partner conversed over email which is hard to convey tone and expression through.

Currently on average young adults have approximately 28 online identities and because digital storage is so cheap, we tend to keep everything – many of us have hundreds of unread, irrelevant emails that we just leave in the inbox as opposed to going through the hassle of deleting them. Ultimately, we have to decide what is important and what is clutter.