I believe that a first impression is a critical component in establishing an identity. An identity, I believe, is largely based off of how others feel about you, as you react based off of others interpretations of you, thus forming who you are. An appearance is a simple and instant method to inform the people in your environment know who you are. For example, if you encounter someone who dresses like a “goth” (i.e. all black clothes, dark makeup, bold hairstyles, etc.), you can probably make an educated guess as to what kind of music, books, or films they like. A goth’s appearance is a large part of their identity, as they are a niche culture and – I assume – would want to be in a community of those who are like them. The way they could recognize potential friends is through their appearance.
I believe that this instant recognition is absent in online interactions, for the most part. Largely, it depends on what medium one is using in their internet interactions. If a Reddit user, for example, posts on a forum thread, there will be little information about who they are as a person, unless their post is directly for the purpose of personal representation. This is because there are no avatars on Reddit. Second Life, conversely, is the perfect online outlet for self-representation, as there are countless ways to express who one is through different avatar variations. In Second Life, I could easily find a community that, for example, enjoyed pirates or science-fiction, purely based off of my appearance. I think the element that is both missing and the most prominent in internet self-personification is the option to physically change one’s appearance. How you make yourself look speaks volumes about the person you are, and unless you are telling your life story on Reddit, that is nearly impossible to do.
The nature of virtual interaction, which is anonymous, for the most part, is highly influenced by the aforementioned anonymity. It is easy to insult, harass, or bully one another online. At the same time, it is easy to form possibly artificial, disingenuous, or misleading relationships with people online. I think that it is significant that Google is making users use their real names when commenting on YouTube videos. YouTube is notorious for having offensive and irrelevant comments on their videos. By making people use their real names, companies like Google finds, it significantly lowers the chance that people will make offensive or irrelevant comments on YouTube videos. This CNN article explains: http://www.cnn.com/2012/07/24/tech/social-media/youtube-real-name-techland Google, by removing anonymity, has changed the way people interact online, as people are more conscious of their decisions when their name is made public.