There are certain unique circumstantial, cultural, and relational aspects to immigration that can alter our personal identity, and I would argue further that a good portion of this is reliant on our online identity. Many scholars have explored how our electronic age powerfully impacts us individually and as a society; how we engage with digital media can benefit or hinder us under any circumstances, but even more so as new immigrants.
Becoming an immigrant likely makes you a stranger to everyone in your new community. Does this result in ongoing identity crisis, loneliness, and career hardships, or can this be an opportunity to reinvent or better yourself and expand your connections? Instead of being apprehensive about the process, allow the digital world to help you maintain and advance all of who you are that benefits you and builds good relationships.
We are given our names at birth, but while reflecting on creating an online domain, it struck me how emphasis is put on the importance of a name. “I believe there’s something actually metaphysical about the act of naming a thing. I believe that on some level it’s the naming that helps call a thing into existence” (Burtis, 2017, para. 66). Perhaps, like many immigrants I know, you have a name that is difficult to pronounce in your new country. Just as academics describe how one needs to take back control and build something in relation to naming your domain (as I have done for this website), you too need to decide if you want to break and recreate your name and identity; both literally and figuratively speaking.
I recall my husband, who has an Afrikaans name, trying to use the closest English translation for his, which was Jacob. For those first weeks of living in Canada, he would introduce himself as Jacob and for him, it felt foreign, like he’d lost his identity. It would’ve been easy if he wanted a new name, but rather than have an identity crisis, he chose to help people spell and pronounce his real name every time – which mind you is a lot when you talk to new clients everyday. In contrast, I know a kid whose name is JG, which is pronounced differently in his home country. I found myself, because of the narrative of my husband, wanting to pronounce it correctly; however, I quickly learnt that his family wanted to adopt and adapt the new identity and have people pronounce JG the way you would in Canada.
In both narratives, it reminds us, that in the end, “our goal is for the naming to represent a moment of taking ownership: a consideration of what a thing is through its naming” (Burtis, 2017, para. 65). There is no right or wrong way, just what works best for you.
Numerous scholars will confirm that our online identity is deeply woven into our environment and culture. Sherry Turkle, a sociologist, licensed clinical psychologist and the Professor of Social Studies of Science and Technologies at MIT, speaks extensively to this in several of her works and explains how the “internet became a powerful evocative object for rethinking identity” (Turkle, 2004, p. 21). The way we think and create our communities’ changes because of how the internet links millions of people in new spaces (Turkle, 1996, para. 4).
When you immigrate, your community that you had in your home country, typically shifts into a digital community. This digital shift alters relationships with those back home, which is a worthy discussion for another blog post, but the focus here is on how your relationships and career in your new country is influenced by digital communication.
You are not in the comforts of what you may have experienced in your previous community, where much of your identity is shared across your existing audiences due to shared history and proximity. Once in a new audience, landing a job doesn’t fit the popular phrase of ”it’s who you know”, if you immigrate apart from a company transfer. Depending on your career, you may not even be heavily sought after, which puts you in a competitive pool; add to that that the companies you worked for in your home country or educational institution may be unknown to your new audience and therefore have no favourable leverage on your resume. All this to say, you will need to embrace the internet like you never have before.
I do not consider myself a techy person and can easily lean into a pessimistic outlook of the internet like Andrew Keen does in his book, The Internet is Not the Answer. But as Keen admits and I concur, the digital world is reshaping our society at speed and the fate of employment and identity are being transformed by networked society (Keen, 2015, p. 239). You could try fight it, as I have done at times, or rather use it as tool for good in terms of community building or your career; immigration comes with enough challenges, so I would suggest the latter. Use the testimonies of those outsiders who owe their careers to the internet to inspire you (Baxter, 2015, par. 1).
Considering how new employers might struggle to rely on your potentially different time zone and language barrier references, the temptation to scope your online presence is even more likely. If you haven’t already, you may want to consider the “art of online self-presentation and the importance of SNSs as tools for (professional) self-promotion” (van Dijck, 2013, p. 200). If you want to inspire communication and collaboration in multiple domains of life, including the workplace, then social media is a powerful tool to do so (Ghani & Malik, 2023, p.2407).
Who are you online if someone were to google your name? It’s not to say that you need to stress about using multiple platforms because “there are many ways to shape online identities for many different purposes”, but because there are several platforms catering towards specific functions and audiences, be prepared (van Dijck, 2013, p. 203). You may have privacy settings, but your profile picture is visible. Create or brush up your LinkedIn profile and make sure you would not be embarrassed for other professionals to see any other social media accounts of yours.
Whether it is getting digitally creative with creating a website portfolio for potential employment, making new social connections within your new community through various digital platforms, or digital marketing, you could learn something from the game design architects!
Henry Jenkins is an author who has written extensively on media and popular culture. When talking about the fascinating phenomenon of Game Design as Narrative Architecture, he shares how game designers don’t simply tell stories; they design worlds and sculpt spaces (Jenkins, 2004, p. 121).
Do not be afraid to tell your story in as many ways and on as many platforms as you can and ponder the interactivity and engagement of your audiences. Ask yourself which audiences you want to reach, what you want them to know and see about you, in what way you want to connect, and how you will achieve that. A gentle warning, reverting to excessive privacy for the sake of privacy or professionalism, may not aid you well for immigration. You need to put yourself out there safely and wisely.
When I first came to Canada, only my husband looked for employment while I had a season of being a stay-at-home-mom with my toddler and baby. You may think people in my position had the luxury of not worrying about digital identity, but that is not true. It is not easy building a community and making new friends.
If I did not embrace a digital identity, it likely would’ve taken me substantially longer to make connections. Instead, I joined as many local social media groups that I could potentially make connections or receive useful information from. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are digitally creating, even in these seemingly insignificant platforms (Burtis, 2017, para. 72). It was in local Facebook groups that I not only advertised my business services, but also met my Canadian best friend. She blessed my life in ways that South African immigrants in my community, at no fault of their own, could not; and for all her introverted ways, she would also say she’d be worse off if it weren’t for her digital identity “breaking the ice”.
Mark Zuckerberg trivialized the complexity of the human condition when he said, “You have only one identity” (Keen, 2015, p. 238). Much like an authoritarian government, perhaps we should question the authority of an individual who has gained excessive power through the controls of his platforms – consequently us! Rather, you can have multiple identities for multiple audiences online, so why not embrace that belief if it can compliment your already adopted choice of multiple national identities. You do not need to feel subculture or other or lost; be relational, be creative, mix it up, and let your life can be richer for all the exposure and what you can positively share.
Baxter, H. (2015, February 10). No, Andrew Keen, the internet is the answer – to social inequality. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/feb/10/andrew-keen-internet-answer-social-economic-inequality
Bilqees, G & Malik, M,A,R. (2022, September 23). Social media and employee voice: a comprehensive literature review. Behaviour & Information Technology, 42(14). pp. 2407-2427. https://doi.org/10.1080/0144929X.2022.2126329
Burtis, M. (2017, May 4). Messy & Chaotic Learning: A Domains Presentation at Keene State College. The Fish Wrapper. https://wrapping.marthaburtis.net/2017/04/05/messy-chaotic/
Jenkins, H. (2004). First Person: New Media as Story, Performance and Game. The MIT Press.
Keen, A. (2015). The Internet is Not the Answer. Grove/Atlantic, Incorporated
Turkle, S. (2004). Whither Psychoanalysis in Computer Culture? Psychoanalytic Psychology, 21(1), 16-30. https://doi.org/10.1037/0736-9718.104.22.168
Turkle, S. (1996, January 1). Who Am We?. Wired. https://www.wired.com/1996/01/turkle-2/
van Dijck, J. (2013, March). ‘You have one identity’: performing the self on Facebook and LinkedIn. Media, Culture & Society. 35(2), pp.199-215. Doi 10.1177/0163443712468605
© B Shepherded All photography by B Shepherded & graphics sourced through Canva.com