The Online Construction of Personal Identity

  • Floridi, Luciano (PI)

Project: Research

Project Details

Key findings

The rapid and unprecedented growth of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs) has had a profound effect not only on the way in which we live our lives but also on the way we perceive ourselves. Our personal identity (PI), namely what it means to be, and remain, the person that one is, is now constructed, developed and maintained in an online and virtual environment as well as in the more familiar offline scenarios. This shift from viewing ourselves as single and unique agents operating in the here and now of a material world as users of technology to agents that are embedded in digitally mediated virtual worlds raises many problems. Moreover, as the distinction between our online and offline lives becomes ever more blurred until it finally disappears, the more pressing the problems become.

This project, the first systematic philosophical exploration of the constraints and affordances raised by this new online habitat (the infosphere), has concluded that although the classic approaches to the problem of PI may go some way towards explaining and understanding both PI and PIO (personal identity online) they are insufficient to meet the challenges posed by PI in the digital age, where we interact not only with other human agents but artificial ones too. However, the shortcomings in the classic approach have provided a basis for the refinement and elaboration of our approach to PIO. The project’s main conclusion is that the construction of PIO favours a dynamic, interactive and distributed (that is, socially- or network dependent) interpretation in a move away from a single, agent-oriented approach towards a new interactive approach that resembles the capacity approach. That is to say, it is a self-tracking capacity where we re-brand and re-invent ourselves in order to avoid becoming just one more anonymous identity among many other anonymous identities. PIO becomes a work-in-progress as our lives are enriched, expanded and flourish through online interaction with other agents, both human and artificial. Yet there also exists the potential for harm and unhealthy, even immoral lives, as PIOs may be mis-contructed, abused or stolen. Clearly both impact on the individuals’ self-esteem, life-styles, values and ethical behaviour as people try to make sense of their place in an information-filled world. Online construction of a PI involves the dissemination of personal data and information, usually supplied via virtual social networks. Witness the rise of Facebook and Second Life, for example.

By shifting the emphasis from a single agent-oriented approach to one that is dynamic, interactive and socially and network dependent, the project has been able to provide a robust conceptual framework which is necessary to recognize and evaluate the qualitative features that characterize the “good life” of the self online, together with the right approach to develop and maintain it. This, in turn, provides the reliable and stable platform upon which other conceptual, technological, scientific and social developments can be based. The ground has been cleared of confusion and inconsistencies to be replaced with a framework for the generation sound ethical guidelines.

Effective start/end date1/05/0930/04/12


  • UKRI - Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC): £165,521.00


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