Real imperfection or polished perfection?

Mimicking real-life interactions in the digital realm

Over 5 billion people in the world are using a select few communication applications. Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Telegram, Signal, Instagram, Line, X, to name a few. Over the years, Stby has worked on global projects for tech companies and noticed that people around the world use their technologies in different ways. During my internship at Stby, I worked on the project ‘Digital Dialogues’, researching how people use digital communication tools to express their personalities to loved ones and develop their own digital cultures. 

You can explore and experience the insights of Digital Dialogues through three interactive narratives. These narratives are designed from data gathered from 32 personal stories from 18 different people around the world. For instance, the first narrative points at how people mimic their real-life interactions in their digital communication. The line between our physical and digital selves is blurred, and the influence is two-directional. This raises the question: what are dilemmas of mimicking reality in digital communication?  You can access all three interactive narratives by following this link.

The narratives provide valuable insights into the ever-evolving landscape of digital communication, and allow us to explore how we can deal with our digital identities. This Thought piece highlights some of the dilemmas in digital interactions and how we express our personality digitally. 

Digital influence on physical reality

Digital communication with our family and friends has become an integral part of our lives. The participants like to express themselves in ways that connect to them and digitally mirror how they interact with their loved ones in real life.

like I’m talking with the other person, hearing their voice and live-reactions feels more personal

Participant that identifies with Mexican culture, sharing an anecdote about the voice note-feature.

to interchange videos, and hence experiences, without being physically together is really rewarding for me

Participant that identifies with Argentine culture, sharing an anecdote about the video-feature.

The boundary between our physical and digital selves is blurred. Consider how people re-enact viral trends, create stickers of themselves or others and quote memes. People shape a digital identity as soon as they start using communication technologies and individuals’ identities in real life have been transformed by the created digital identity, as found by Çöteli (2019). So, our identities are shaped by a reciprocal influence between our physical and digital identities. 

The Me-moji project (2013) investigated the shared interpretation of
emojis through a collective effort (source: Me-moji).

How real is our digital mimic of reality?

The participants seem to want to convey true expressions in their anecdotes. True expressions, in my opinion, include imperfections like errors and wavering. However, not all digital communication features embrace this level of humanness, especially text messages. Consider the invisibility of our hesitations or backspaces when drafting a text; editing, changing or deleting messages; and applying filters to pictures before sharing them. Some digital interactions seem to selectively mimic real-life interactions thus facilitating polished digital interactions. What are the potential risks of these streamlined and polished communication features? 

sometimes I feel it’s too efficient. (…) What I don’t like is that it seems to be more and more about the parents than the kids

Participant that identifies with Dutch culture, sharing an anecdote about the text and group chat-features.

Humanness in the digital world

We have the agency to choose what features we use. So, how can we thrive in digital communication? How can we merge our physical and digital personalities without losing authenticity? 

Fortunately, several anecdotes in the Digital Dialogues project highlight the use of features that include an authentic level of humanness. Silly selfies, voice notes or video calls are real features where we do not filter or polish our humanness. Instead, they capture the true expressions of connection between loved ones.

the uglier the better. We know what we want to say without having to say it, our faces speak for us

Participant that identifies with France culture, sharing an anecdote about the selfie-feature.

We must foster genuine interactions and build digital spaces that reflect our true selves. By prioritising authenticity through unpolished interactions, we can cultivate more genuine digital languages. Let’s break down the digital vacuum of polished perfection and create more unpolished features to stay truly connected to our loved ones. 

Explore more about digital dialogues

Are you curious to explore Digital Dialogues? Follow this link to engage with anecdotes around the world and reflect on your own digital communication.


Combi, M. (2016). Cultures and Technology: An analysis of some of the changes in Progress—Digital, Global and Local culture. In Springer eBooks (pp. 3–15).

Coteli, Sami. (2019). The Impact of New Media on The Forms of Culture: Digital Identity and Digital Culture. Online Journal of Communication and Media Technologies. 9. 1-12. 10.29333/ojcmt/5765., an emoji photobooth and gallery – Lian Chikako Chang. (n.d.). 


I would like to express my gratitude to the Stby team for taking me along in the messy world of design research and mentoring me in this internship project. I would like to thank all the participants that contributed their time and effort in sharing their invaluable anecdotes.

Evelijn van Hilten

Collage of screenshots of the participants’ anecdotes