IDENTITY & SOCIAL MEDIA — CHAPTER 1
THE EXTERIOR SELF
Social Media has become the new mirror of our time, in it we look at our image in order to judge it and modify it.
What makes of this such a complex mirror is the fact that our appearance is no longer assessed by ourselves — our opinion is completely secondary here — but we offer our contacts the judging role, and they give us their opinion in the shape of likes (or through the lack of them) and comments.
But there’s more to this, we’re talking about a magic mirror here. What’s more surprising of it all is that when we spy at the mirror it’s not our own image that we get back but the image of the rest of the people on the Internet.
Instagram is the app that users employ to develop their image the most because its content is based almost exclusively on sharing pictures between contacts. The trick is that the app doesn’t only allow us to see the pictures of our contacts but it also allows us to see pictures of complete strangers thanks to its algorithm, which selects pictures of unknown people that it believes could interest us — or that it wants us to see -. In this page we can see thousands of people we do not know at all — some of them are contacts of our contacts but there are also many influencers -. What used to be complete strangers, are now inside our home, without a way to get them out of there and, are we sure we invited them?
So, the app doesn’t only help us build and develop our identity but, through its own architecture, it offers us a range of identities from which to pick, almost as if we were offered a selection of dresses to try on.
This is how the “Instagram persona” has come to be, that young one who’s in eternal vacations, with tattoos and sunglasses on. Young people that look like they are having the time of their life every second of their day. Sometimes, it’s true, they show an introspective moment, but this looks like an incredibly enriching personal moment and its always very visual. And it’s that, the experiences we live have become a fundamental part of our appearance.
Can we really create an authentic identity with so many pictures of other people invading our personal space?
Social Media is a machine of identity creation, we have more control over Social Media that on many other aspects of our life and that’s probably why we’re so hooked.
That the world is moving too fast under our feet is no surprise to anyone.
Maybe we don’t know where our next pay check will come from but we have an intuition it will be from a freelance job, maybe we don’t know in which flat (or Country) we’ll live in next year, or who our next partner will be or whether it will be a relationship with sentimental value or one contrived to the space of the bed, or if the next President of the most powerful Country in the world will embarrass human intellect and empathic capability or it will be someone who loathes and wants to kill our privacy, or if our Country will bomb another Country or if the Country-bombing-Country will unleash a terrorist attack in our City.
We have absolute control over what we publish on our Social Media platforms. So, we’ve climbed the mountain and we have placed a flag on top of it in which clearly states, in capital letters, that THAT land is ours — even if we keep our gaze stuck to the ground not to see the giant looking at us from above.
Logically, we’ve extended this extreme control to our appearance, which has to be exactly how we want it to be and if it doesn’t obey, that’s what filters are for as well as the fantastic digital capacity to store thousands of pictures for us.
Look at the selfie, to travel the world pointing the camera at us? What would your great grandmother have said? The selfie is the proof that our love is not to the world, but to “us in the world”. The landscape works almost like an accessories to our body. We’ve become landscape and world, and the world has become an ornament.
As citizens who were turned into consumers without our full consent we now seem to want to be products and, as such, our goal is not to show ourselves to the world through Social Media but to build an identity to which we enjoy feeling identified with.
That’s why it’s so important to remember that the digital world is an edited one. To open our Social Media networks is to open a window to a utopic world.
To edit is to censure some areas of ourselves while enhancing others. This way we “test” our chosen identity in an environment that we deem safer that the real world. By being validated by our “community”, we feel more confident to take risks.
As long as we don’t develop a dependency to this constant validation and the gratification that follows up, it can be a highly creative process.
Social Media can be exhausting for people who try to keep up with its rhythm of constant change, this is not about following the changes in style in your area but about following the changes throughout the world. I repeat: throughout the entire world.
These digital platforms invite us to take part in the game through their architecture: the “self” in constant competition with the world.
Even if we’ve been editing our image to the eyes of the world for centuries, with Social Media there’s no possibility to go home, close the door behind and take off our shoes. There’s no rest and no holidays in the horizon (that’s the moment in which we’re expected to work the most in our identities).
To disappear from the Social Media radar doesn’t equal to having time out but it equals to disappearing from the digital world. Nowadays, this can have such an effect as disappearing from the tangible world.
It’s very possible that the pressure we feel caused by Social Media is there because we haven’t been born with it and we don’t know how to manage so many networks at once.
The first digital native generation however, the so-called Generation Z, seems to find better ways to manage it. A few young people (and so young, because the oldest age in the range is 19) have already decided to quite Social Media or at least some of them have drastically reduced its use — the Instagram model Essena O’Neill being the most famous case -, a lot of them are demanding more privacy by using apps with less digital footprint like Snapchat, and some are using anonymous apps like Whisper.
It’s very possible that the generation born with the Internet understands the real function of Social Media and that, besides demanding real privacy, it will build more “organic” ways to use the apps.
It’s obvious that Social Media promotes competition through its internal structure, as it also promotes envy and the necessity to keep rising to the challenge. That’s maybe because these platforms reflect the world in which we live in. We build Social Media platforms that reflect our way of thinking, because today, we have no other.
Such a young generation that handles the Internet with the same naturalness a fish swims in the sea and which seems more worried by the world’s state of economy, environment and social issues than its precedent generations, could hold the key in forcing Social Media expand its social and creative side without reinforcing the competition game through its internal structure.
SocialHola — Barcelona, España