Digital Labels

People get twitchy if they can’t label you. Everyone must have a label. Doctor, Lawyer, Architect, Engineer, Librarian, Journalist, Black, White, Gay – if they can’t label you they probably won’t talk to you. Try introducing yourself without giving yourself a label and I guarantee the person you are talking with will loose interest within a few minutes.

As human beings we love to categorize people because it just feels more comfortable to know which box people fit into, even If it is the incorrect box. If we don’t get told what someone does, we keep guessing by applying labels to them until they accept one. At that point we are satisfied and comfortable to introduce them to someone else using their newly acquired label.

So what do we do when we get online? Some of us bring along our baggage from the real world by signing emails with long signatures describing our attributes and accomplishments.

Without a signature, an eMail from an unknown person is most likely judged by their eMail address. If their address is @hotmail.com then they are probably a bit of a nomad with no fixed abode. Recognizing a persons company in the eMail address is as good as a business card although I’m sure we are a little lenient with our recognition. We would probably assume Joe@Microsoft.Com is an impressive guy but he could be the coffee maker.

Some people embrace the casualness of the Internet by including an inspirational quote in their eMail signature. The more creative may even include a drawing or point you in the direction of a web site they have built for themselves.

All these things confirm to me that people are fond of labels and prefer to bring them along when they go online. The shear size of the Internet and the fact that we communicate more and more with a wide, varied audience, means that it is going to be increasingly difficult to keep our labels in tact while online.

A doctor who discusses her interest in farming techniques may be mistaken for a farmer while farmers with an interest in meditation might find themselves grouped together as new agers. An interesting spin off of this is that we will start to take on more and more labels and persona. I already know of people who are very formal company executives by day and chatty netizens by night.

A motorbike rider wearing a crash helmet may cut you off on the freeway and then, a few minutes later smile at you in the check out queue of the supermarket. Her mask guarantees her anonymity. Likewise, colleagues on the Internet may hide behind misleading or false labels.

All said and done, we are going to need to manage our labels more rigorously on the net than we do in real life. On a positive note, I find it very exciting that that we are now able to express ourselves in numerous different ways to a large audience who have no pre-conceived ideas about who we are.

We can leave our tired labels behind while we fire up our digital personas. What label are you wearing today?

Author: Dale Williams

Dale is based in Cape Town on the southern tip of Africa from where he maintains connections with people all over the world through his portfolio life.