Noticed how we can’t seem to touch our phones without automatically unlocking it and… checking? Social media promises to create more connections, yet I think It’s my phone I’ve become attached to. It’s like our phones have become an extension of our own bodies, influencing how we see the world, ourselves and others. Are we becoming automatons progressively disconnecting form physical reality, including the people around us? As we focus on how we appear to others online, are we creating a disconnection from our true selves, values, beliefs, and our ability to grow and influence others in a meaningful way?
Our digital social media identity
Online profiles offer the opportunity to create and shape our own identity. That is, how we want to be seen and known. But how do we know where to draw the line? Everyone seems to be doing, going, wearing, posing and pouting in similar ways. Is it purely performance? The tension to go along with shifting trends plus the pressure to re-invent identities and new ways to re-present ourselves is unrelenting.
Technology also offers the possibility to ‘market ourselves’. We have become a product whose popularity is measured in likes and shares. A personalised digital identity re-presenting who we ‘are’ -or want to be known as. The concept suggests people could explore and express their authentic selves. But under the world’s watchful eyes, the fear of saying or doing the wrong thing (no longer trendy) is intense. So, in the end, that is usually not what happens.
As if identities are products on a marketing campaign seeking buy-in from society, we are compelled to apply marketing principles to our identity. Pushing beauty, health, happiness, fulfilment and other ideals and increasing the gap along ‘us/them’ divides, such as young/old, rich/poor and similar things. Not only are these ideals nearly impossible to sustain, they are also dismissive of difference.
Somewhere along the way, we seem to have conformed to the quest for the ideal ‘appearance’. But, even assuming the ideal is achievable, the values it promotes are difficult to sustain. Yet like a layer of in-fashion clothing we wear, they have become a product of our consumption.
Losing our unique identity
As we present ourselves this way, we risk disappearing under the layers of re-presentation. Caught in a a quest for likes, hoping. If not, we must try harder.
Our focus shifts from the physical to the non-physical world. Rather than experiencing the moment, we are constantly documenting and sharing it. Day-to-day life experiences are bound to and limited by what is trending. The real person doesn’t seem to matter much. Just as with a company or product, where success is measured in the quality of the marketing and sales (not necessarily the actual quality of the product and whether it delivers what it promises), we too both buy into and sell ideals, although we might deep down not actually want to live by the its values.
How do we know if we have been sucked into this digital identity vortex?
Perhaps we feel disconnected and misunderstood, like no one knows who we really are. We’ve become obsessed with getting the right picture, angle, or look, terrified by the thought that people might not like us. We may feel anxious, constantly checking, worried our post was not good enough. Not sure who we are anymore.
What Can We Do About It?
It is really important to get back in touch with the real you, on the inside. Then, chose to represent yourself in different levels, not just the outer appearance. Remember, developing an identity is about becoming recognisable, relevant and influential. But how can that ever be 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? Break free from the control these values impose on you.
How do we do it?
First 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. 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? Their difference will be what will help you to tell them apart.
Being able to respect difference, both yours and other’s, is an important step for building self-worth. It is interesting to realise that while our need belonging is a survival instinct, in an effort to blend in, most people pursue belonging at the expense of their uniqueness. When belonging is the only focus, people 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. Don’t just copy others. Instead, add more of you into it. How do you add more of you? Bring in what makes you unique: 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 will be identifiable for your experiences are unique. You will stand out and what stands out gets noticed!
Text: Mithzay Pomenta
Images: Adrian Sava, Drew Graham, Annie Spratt
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