Creating ourselves through online experiences: An ethnographic vignette

As the semester is winding down with our projects I wanted to look at my project from an introspective lens. Through my interviews and experiences with international students from all walks of life, ages, countries of origin I have gotten a, at least rudimentary, insight into just how they imagine their place in American society. I do realize there are limits to my knowledge pool, with this being a topic which has great depth and complexity. But, while sitting in another class a week or so ago I thought about my research and questions I had been posing, but directed at myself.

The class is an upper level “English” class where the goal is to gain a better understanding of digital media and its role in our lives today. As we have progressed through the semester I have been continually very intrigued by the topics we were discussing, but I could not really point my finger on why. For the last few weeks a main focus of the class has been social media and how it is used by people. As Jill Rettberg, in her book Seeing Ourselves Through Technology: How We Use Selfies, Blogs and Wearable Devices to See and Shape Ourselves says:

Source: The Odyssey Online

“ Cultural filters are as important as technological filters. Our cultural filters, the rules and conventions that guide us, filter out possible modes of expression so subtly that we often are not even aware of all the things we do not see… We cannot represent our lives or our bodies without using or adapting, resisting and pushing against filters that are already embedded in our culture, whether those filters are cultural or technological. Cultural filters change over time and are different in different cultures. We can and often do resist or change cultural filters, but most of the time we simply act according to the logic of the filter without even realizing that that is what we are doing.”

This is what truly enthralled me about this class. The entire semester all of our work and discussion had one common theme, how do we imagine ourselves in society. For most, in contemporary society, the answer is very simple. Even though it may not always be recognizable or necessarily openly accepted, its social media. These filters that Rettberg speaks of are the core of social media and how and why we use it today.

People have since the beginning of time seen themselves through their environment. They have shaped their lifestyle and image in the face of how society tells them to in order to be socially successful. But, today that fact is omnipresent with the explosion of social media.

Where this truly connects to my project is the role this transformation has played in our (college students) lives. We are one of the first generations who almost solely communicate, not just with peers, but with everything that encompasses our environment (news intake, socialization, power dynamics, etc) online through some form of social media.

No matter if you are a life long resident of Maryland and attend UMBC with many of your childhood/high school friends or you are an international student from thousands of miles away with no prior relationships in the UMBC social sphere. There is a commonality, we all imagine ourselves through digital presence. We create personas. We operate in and gain an understanding of the rules and regulations of the community. We learn the ways of our environment in order to either fit in and follow these guidelines, or push those ways aside and on some level of a social spectrum get cast out.

Source: Ingles Malaga

Through this more in depth understanding of the commonality of all people of this digitized generation, we can have a greater appreciation for the struggle for identity of someone who travels across the world for an education without first understanding their place in that society.