Someone take my phone away! I can’t touch it without automatically unlocking it and… checking. Do you find it hard to resist checking and posting on Apps? Social media promises to create more connections, yet I think It’s my phone I’ve become attached to. Actually, through digital identities, our phones become an extension of us influencing how we see the world, others and ourselves. First, we disconnect form the physical reality, including the people around us. Then, as we focus on how we appear to others online, we risk disconnecting from ourselves (our true selves, values, beliefs, and our ability to grow and influence).
Our Digital Identity On Social Media
The ability to create profiles offers the promise of creating your own identity. Instead, profiles appear to create a veneer digital identity where people are seen doing, going, wearing, posing and pouting in similar ways. As the trends increase, so does the pressure to re-invent identities and ways to re-present ourselves.
Marketing Ourselves Online
Somewhere along the way, we seem to have settled for the ‘appearance’ of the ideal and the values used to promote them, rather than their ‘principled application’ (assuming the ideal was ever achievable). The ideals, along with the values used to promote them, have become a product of consumption. It’s like a layer of in-fashion clothing we wear, rather than values we live by.
The success of online identities is based on the ability to ‘market ourselves’ and measured in ‘Likes’. It’s a digital identity portrait re-presenting who we ‘are’ -as we want to be known. Ironically, the fear of missing out on ‘Likes’ along with the fear that no expression goes unpunished, leaves little room for people to explore and express their authentic selves under the world’s watchful eyes.
But why are we being forced to apply marketing principles to our identity? It is as if identities are products and people must jump on a marketing campaign seeking buy-in from society. The categories are restricted to ideals or set along us/them divides. Ideals of beauty, health, happiness, fulfillment, (the list goes on) and divides of young/old, rich/poor, and the like. These, by their very nature, are both impossible to achieve and dismissive of difference.
Losing Our Personal Identity
Meanwhile, the risk is that our true identity vanishes. Because in the pursuit for representation according to the defined categories we get caught in this cycle: If we get Likes, people have bought into our represented ideal. If we don’t get the Likes, our marketing has failed and we must try harder to discover what is trending and present ourselves according to that. What? Wait.. who are you really?
There is also a loss of focus. Rather than pursuing growth, your actual self-transformation or who you are in your day-to-day life, what seems to take priority is to be seen among those pursuing the ideal to align yourself with what is trending. Just as with a company or product, the real person behind doesn’t seem to matter. Success is measured in the quality of the marketing and the sales of the product (not necessarily the actual quality of the product and whether it delivers what it promises). We become part of the marketing ideal that we both buy into and sell, although we might not actually live by it.
How do we know if we have been sucked into this digital identity vortex? We may feel disconnected and misunderstood, like no one knows who we really are. The thought of people knowing the real you and not liking it is terrifying. Sometimes we are not sure we know who we really are anymore, or feel like we never did. Perhaps we obsess over getting the right picture, angle, or look. We may feel anxious, constantly checking for likes, worried that what was posted was not good enough.
So, What Can We Do About It?
It is really important to discover who the real you is on the inside. Then, the way you chose to represent yourself must re-present you in different levels, not just the outer appearance. Remember, developing an identity is about becoming recognisable, relevant and influential. But how is that possible if we look and act pretty much like everyone else?
Also, challenge the values used to market the ideal can you actually live by the values or are they contradicting and just useful because they sound nice and sell, but no one actually lives by them.
How do we do it?
The first step is to ask yourself: Who am I? In what ways am I different from everyone else? In what ways the same? What have we got in common? This highlights the distinction between uniqueness and belonging.
Here is a way to look at it: Identity is about being able to identify. So, on one end you identify with others through the things you have in common. And on the other, you must be identifiable amongst other people. There is no other way to identify something or someone except through difference. For example, if there are two girls how do we know which one is Mary? Both are girls, so I can distinguish a group they belong to. However, it is using the things that make them different that we can tell which one is Mary (even if it’s something simple, like her name).
Being able to respect difference, both yours and other’s, is an important step for building self-worth. It is interesting that while the need belonging is a survival instinct, most people pursue belonging at the expense of their uniqueness. In an effort to blend in, they lose their sense of self and learn to despise that which makes them unique.
Second, live by the values you promote –and ask yourself: are some of these values that others promote actually worth living by? If you really want to be a person of influence, try not to just consume and imitate culture, taking it in without questioning it. Don’t just pass it on unchanged or copy others. Instead, add to it more of you.
What lessons have you learnt from life? How have they transformed you into the person you are now? What are your strengths? How can you use them to continue to grow into the person you were always meant to be?
You won’t fit in, that’s true. But this just means you will be identifiable. You will stand out and what stands out gets noticed!
Text: Mithzay Pomenta
Images: Adrian Sava, Drew Graham, Annie Spratt