The pictures above are screenshots of the pages I like on Facebook. The shrinks among you will try to ‘psychoanalyse’ me based on that alone. I am sure you will get your ‘analyses’ wrong. Yes, what I like reveals my true self. But, I have only shown you eighteen pages. You should also consider the groups I join, my taste, my backgrounds, what I share online and how I interact with fellow human beings online and offline. Here, I will discuss how I form my online identity and its legitimacy as a form of legitimacy. First, we need to define what identity is.
Some of the Youtubers featured in the screenshot… well… I have stopped watching them almost completely since 2015, a year after I made this assignment. I also liked a page called ‘Positive Outlooks’. Yeah, I don’t remember how I ended up liking a page with such revoltingly-syrupy name.
R. Atchley (cited in Kelly 2010) defines identity as a group of traits that distinguish a self from the others; it is the only thing that can represent a self. I personally see myself having more than one; my online behaviour is different from the offline one. Stard and Prusak (cited in Kelly 2010) believed that to be true; they stated a self can have more than one depending on how it represents itself. An online identity is different from its offline counterpart because the former tends to be more mindfully presented, considering how social media gives users more time (Champagne cited in Bouvier 2012, p. 40). Every identity is legitimate despite contradicting each other. Online, I have two: humanist and spiritual.
It is anecdotal, but I believe online identities are not always sensible; they can be a lot nastier than the offline ones. New media seem to be good at breaking down our metaphysical guard.
I still believe one can embrace two seemingly clashing identities; humans are complex creatures. But, I also admit the syncretic identification can appear as cognitive dissonances to most people, especially when said individuals refuse to acknowledge the contradictions’ existence.
My humanist identity is an identity I embrace when dealing with fellow human beings. It covers my social, political and cultural identity. When online, it is mostly liberal and internationalist in nature. I constantly clash with conservatives, I prefer English over Indonesian and most online articles I read are about international issues instead of local ones. When I first joined Facebook, I was far less international but was already liberal. Then, I started to meet people from all over the world and had good relationships with them. Offline, it is a different case.
I still have shreds of conservatism and nationalism inside my offline self. My lifestyle is neither too liberal nor too conservative. I live in Australia at the moment, studying in an international university and have no problem respecting local customs. But, I spend most of social life interacting with fellow Indonesians and acting like a stereotypical Indonesian inside my house. Even though both are different, my online and offline identities greatly influence each other. I would be completely completely liberal and international online if my offline self is not more moderate and more nationalistic. Unlike my humanist identity, my spiritual identity took longer to form itself.
I am not sure about my usage of the word ‘humanist’. Humanism is often defined as a divine-less and human-centred form of spirituality. It is obvious how my so-called humanist identity has nothing to do with spirituality. Back then, I did not bother to open my thesaurus. Now, I think ‘temporal’ or ‘profane’ are the more appropriate choices.
I was fooling myself when I said I had good relationships with everyone on Facebook. I did end up being close to some users. But, at the same time, I also had many clashes caused by various reasons. Sooo easy to interact with me.
Now, I am back to Indonesia, even though I am still studying off-campus mode on the same university. The reason I mostly interacted with Indonesians while living abroad is I lived with my sister, who had many Indonesian friends and acquaintances in Australia. If my sister was not with me, I would have more interactions with Aussies. If you barely socialise and you live in Australia, your interactions would mostly consist of Aussies. Duh!
Spirituality does not have a universally-accepted definition. I personally define it as a way to embrace one’s true self; it is not necessarily about connecting with the divine as agnostics and atheists may also describe themselves as ‘spiritual’. My online spiritual identity is a reformed/progressive one. I believe there must be a reform in the way believers interpret religious teachings. On Facebook, I join groups and like pages dedicated to progressive/reformed/ Muslims; I also like pages dedicated to progressive Christians. If online users ask what my religion is, I would immediately answer progressive/reformed Islam. Offline, once again, it is a different case.
I am closeted with my belief in order to avoid any conflicts. There are not many openly progressive Muslims. The internet is our safe haven, the only place where we are able to congregate peacefully (most of the time); the online congregation is more spiritually satisfying than the ones I encounter in mosques. But, there is a problem with my spiritual identity: it is insecure and fragile.
I am doubtful that I perfectly represent my identity. I tend to have low tolerance of conservative and moderate Muslims, even the non-violent ones, seemingly contradicting my so-called progressive nature. Technically, I am a progressive/reformist-wannabe militant liberal. It will actually help if I interact with more people, not just the ones who claim to be progressive.
Piotr Bobkowski (2008) believed young people are not enlightened enough to properly express their faith (p. 3) and yet they can be too showy (p. 21). Literally me. I am very quick to announce my religiosity while still not being learned enough. Compared that to my fellow self-identified progressive/reformist Muslims who are both well-read and reserved.
I still embrace that definition of spirituality. But, nowadays, it has become more layered and slightly more complex (only slightly). I realised how I defined it in 2014 was too simplistic and superficial.
I keep typing ‘reformed/progressive’ regarding my Islamic identity. Many people use the two words interchangeably, sometimes along with the word ‘liberal’. From what I know, there are no established distinctions between reformist, progressive and liberal Muslims. But, I tend to identify with the first two as I do think liberalism is different from progressivism and reformism.
My militant liberal attitude was short-lived. I was very impressionable and let myself influenced by the nasty self-proclaimed reformed/progressive Muslims whose idea of progressive Islam includes selling their fellow believers to anti-Muslim bigots. That’s why I am often reluctant to join online communities dedicated to such well-intentioned movement. It is too bad because many self-proclaimed progressives out there still maintain their dignity.
I agree with Bobkowski to an extend. It is true youngsters are prone to irrationality and immaturity; unsurprising considering how young brains are not fully-developed. But, at the same time, adults can also be guilty of the same, especially when it comes to spirituality. Case in point, those sell-out so-called progressive Muslims.
Online identity is as legitimate as its offline counterpart. In the digital era, both are inevitable crucial parts in overall human identities. One can’t live without the other, despite seemingly different from the surface. It is not important if they are different from each other or not, it is more important if they are true to a person’s true self and they don’t make him or her an intolerant individual.
It should be like this: it is more important if they encourage our true selves to embrace reason and high moral standards.
Bobkowski, P 2008, ‘An Analysis of Religious Identity Presentation on Facebook’, International Communication Association 2008 Annual Meeting — Conference Paper, pp. 1–24.
Bourvier, G 2012, ‘How Facebook users select identity categories for self-presentation,’ Journal of Multicultural Discourses, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 37–53.
Kelly, L 2010, What is Identity?, Australian Museum, retrieved 19 May 2010, <http://australianmuseum.net.au/blogpost/Museullaneous/What-is-identity>.