We are thrilled to announce that Dominic Boever has won the Digital Identity Scholarship! Dominic’s essay on “Dignity and Identity: Assessing the Reality of Life in the Digital Age” won among a competitive group of thought-provoking essays from the best and brightest minds in higher education. Dominic is a junior at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who plans to use the $5,000 scholarship funds to further his education by attending optician school after graduating. He plans to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the family optician business after he has completed his studies.
Dignity and Identity: Assessing the Reality of Life in the Digital Age
My name is Dominic Boever and I am a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. This essay seeks to provide insight into the reality of digital identity, answering the questions: What does digital identity mean to you? How do you see the future of digital identity? What benefits and risks might we face, as society and individuals, as digital identity evolves in the years ahead?
In my mind, there is an inseparable relationship between a person’s identity and their human dignity. This foundational reality must be at the forefront of our minds when we address issues of identity. Without dignity, all respect and love for one another is either a mere facade, at best, or utterly forgotten and discarded at worst. A basic agreement about the reality of human dignity is the premise that a thriving society is based on. When this ideal is given pride of place in our law and culture, people are allowed to flourish, to develop their potential, and to embrace their identities. And so, any authentic conception of identity must indeed recognize the essential importance of maintaining a healthy understanding of our dignity.
Now, we find ourselves living in a truly digital age. Whether it’s the smartphone in your pocket, your flat-screen TV, or your laptop, we all partake in this virtual society in some form or another. I do not believe that I am exaggerating when I say that this newfound technology has truly revolutionized the way that we experience life, both as an individual and as a society. People of all ages, races, economic classes, and countries are able to interact with one another in this digital sphere, fostering what I believe to be a greater unity among the peoples of this Earth.
Undoubtedly, this is a positive element of the digital age, where our common understanding of human dignity is soaring to heights that were previously thought unattainable. No longer are superficial boundaries able to keep individuals/groups isolated from one another, for over 80% of the world’s population owns a smartphone. We are all able to witness the achievements of others, to communicate with them on social media, to share our own stories with them, and to collaborate to bring about change for the better. With such powers of self-expression, we are able to cultivate our identities and grow stronger in them by connecting virtually with others who share our identities.
Identity has to do with the beliefs, traits, and experiences of an individual or group. To a large extent, it is shaped by one’s unique walk of life, the people encountered along the way, the places one has lived and visited, and all of the ways in which the external world has affected us. On account of this, there are countless identities due to the nature of the human experience, seeing as how each person perceives the world differently and forms a particular conception of reality. Due to the subjective nature of our perceptions, it can be hard to fully understand the struggles, joys, and feelings of another person, especially if they hail from a background largely different from your own.
However, the advent of the Internet heralded a new age in which people were able to share their identity online, especially on social media, allowing for unexpected friendships to be kindled. I have made friends from countries all across the globe, from Gambia and Nigeria, to Ireland and Portugal. Apps like Facebook and Twitter made these relationships possible, giving me a window into what these people’s lives are like. Social media can also help keep friends and family connected when they live miles apart, informing them of major life events. Finally, the digital age allows for like-minded people to connect over the Internet to feel a sense of community that they might not find in their immediate area. These are all undoubtedly great fruits of the digital age.
The fusion of our personal identity with modern technology has led to what we can call a digital identity. Your digital identity is a special way of manifesting your true, innate identity for the whole world to see via the Internet. I have already outlined the positive aspects of having such an identity, as well as why I believe it is vital for us to recognize the relationship between identity and dignity.
As we continue to blaze trails and pioneer new technologies, we often find ourselves faced with various ethical dilemmas. It would be irresponsible to immerse ourselves more into digital media without accounting for the possible ways in which it could harm us. Furthermore, disputes over privacy and the misuse of personal information continue to arise. And so, it is important for us to assess both the positive and negative aspects of having a digital identity, especially in light of future advancements in technology.
In my opinion, one of the most glaring problems with having a digital identity in today’s world is the often radical disconnect between the version of you that is seen by the online community versus the real-life version of you that is known only to your closest friends, family, and your own internal perception of yourself. Our digital identities, like the soft sands of the sea, are easily malleable, capable of being shaped and formed to create a certain desired public image. The instinct to do this appeals to a very natural and deep-seated human need to feel loved and respected by others, to have them affirm our identity and thus recognize our dignity.
Much to the disappointment of many people, however, digital devices fall short when it comes to fulfilling this need in a satisfactory way. Humans are physical, finite, and personal beings and in contrast, the Internet can sometimes seem to be cold, impersonal, and fleeting. The faint flicker of a screen is truly no match for the warm hug of a loved one. Furthermore, it is my own experience and those of my friends who have larger social media platforms that the nature of communication in the digital age, especially with social media, pressures us to appear and act a certain way, or to continue to post content that will keep others entertained. This is a real burden that many people feel and sometimes it can feel akin to the weight of the world bearing down on the shoulders of Hercules. In addition to the reality of cyberbullying, the increasing toxicity of social media, the multiplying number of echo chambers, and the frenzy of online polemics, I believe that the personal burden of social media can be a great struggle for those who wish to remain firm in their identities and human dignity. Concluding this essay, I have given a cursory look at the reality of today’s digital age, touching on how our understanding of dignity and identity play into life in a world filled with all manner of technology. I hope that I have painted a fair and thought-provoking assessment of what I believe are the pros and cons of having a digital identity in the year 2022 and in the years to come. This matters to the whole world, to both living and future generations, because we are truly all in this together. I want to thank those at Spokeo for taking the time to read my essay and also for considering me for this scholarship.