Tag Archives: Giddens

The Complexity of the Online Self

Cyberspace can both be considered a communication medium for “real” people and a place for people to take on different roles, for experimenting with different ways of behaviour, maybe even different identities. This possible online identity experimentation could change the way people think about the concept of identity. Sherry Turkle[1] considers the Internet as an element of computer culture which has contributed to the thinking of identity as a plural phenomenon. The Internet is used to experiment with the different sides of an identity. Virtual identities inspire to think about your own ‘real’ identity because the creation of an online role takes introspection. In the modern digital age it is impossible to speak of just one definite identity. The concept of identity must both personally and culturally not be considered as a definite fact.

Identity in cyberspace is an ambiguous notion. In real life an identity is mostly considered singular, belonging to a single body. In a virtual world, body and identity can be separated. This realization brings along a lot of new opportunities for experimenting with identity. Still it doesn’t really matter how many online identities one creates, because they all belong to the same body and mind sitting in front of the computer screen[2]. From this point of view identity is still considered singular and the internet is a tool to further develop this single identity. This notion doesn’t seem to stroke with Turkle’s idea of the plural identity. It’s interesting to give this contradiction a moment’s thought.

Anthony Giddens[3] claims that the late modernity (the time we live in right now according to Giddens) confused the way we think about identity. This confusion appears to give us the opportunity to create a new own identity. Because of the twentieth century increased individualism people started to consciously search for their own identity. Only when someone is aware of his/her present identity it’s possible to further develop this identity to the desired identity. To clearly define the road to the desired identity there’s a need for introspection and self reflection. Self reflection offers the opportunity for the fragmented late modern identity to re-shape itself, or at least some part of it. In this late modernity people are (being made) aware of their need for a clear identity. Because of this awareness they employ a continuous mode of self reflection concerning the own identity and its representation. According to Gidden’s theory the creation of an identity is a personal choice, people create their own identity. In my opinion Giddens puts to much emphasis on the individual. Giddens theory supports the theory of contra-essentialism, which is the idea of identity as a social construct, an decentralised identity. Contra-essentialism is opposed to essentialism, which is the idea of an established identity. Giddens talks about identity as a project under development, which clearly is opposed to the theory of essentialism, but he doesn’t say much about the social influences on that project, he concentrates on the inner processes of the individual. Another academic supporting the idea of contra-essentialism is Stuart Hall[4]. According to Hall the modern view on identity is one of constructionism, mobility and multiplexity. He claims identity isn’t an established objective fact, but a process shaped by subjective impulses, which originate from a persons discursive activities. A persons environment and context have a big influence on identity construction. Hall says “We are defined by who we are not”, identity originates from being different then the other and because of that is determined by others. Introspection concerning an individuals own identity creates a need for thinking about other individuals.

The idea of contra-essentialism and its constructionist approach to identity gives the concept of identity an interesting meaning in our digital age. As said before, the Internet is a great platform for experimenting with identity. When we adopt Gidden’s and Hall’s ideas the internet can be very helpful for creating the desired identity. The continuous need for analysing and developing the current identity fits perfectly inside the online worlds possibilities for identity building and experimenting. SNS sites, online communities and other internet applications based on social contact have proven to be playgrounds for self presentation. The online interaction also gives opportunity to define the own identity through the identity of others, which according to Hall is important for identity construction. This enormous opportunity for potential identity development takes us back to the question concerning Turkle’s plural identity. Could experimentation with different kinds of self presentation be an argument to speak about a plural identity. Is it possible for someone to have more than one identity? It could be said it is easy to have several different identities in different online environments, but are these identities really different? The notion that these different identities come from the same mind, makes me think they are just part of one reigning identity. An “online identity” might simply be a way of self presentation, not really an entire personality comprising identity. When thinking about identity from a constructionist view, it is hard to think of identity as possibly plural. I’m inclined to think of the internet as an enormous stimulus for identity development, but not as giving opportunity to employ multiple identities.

[1] Turkle, S. (1995) Life on the screen: identity in the age of the  Internet. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster

[2] Donath, J. (1999) Identity and deception in the virtual world. In Kollock, P. & Smith, A. (1999) Communities in cyberspace. London; New York: Routledge

[3] Giddens, A (1991) Modernity and self identity; Self and society in the late modern age. Cambridge: Polity press

[4] Hall, S. (1995) in Bell, D. (2001) An introduction to cybercultures. New York, NY: Routledge


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Twitter: Exposing the Idols

Twitter is a perfect tool for getting an insight in peoples daily lives. It encourages the following of public figures as well as “ordinary people”, who might be interesting to you. Besides the role of a follower, you also get the possibility to share your own daily life with the rest of the world. This online exposure marks twitter as a true online identity constructor. Your twitter identity is not only defined by what you tweet but also by who you follow. In this blog post I want to focus on what twitter could mean in the case of role models. Lots of celebrities and other kinds of public figures put their lives on twitter, open to see and follow for everyone. That a lot of people actually want to follow the lives of public figures on twitter was proven last April when Ashton Kutcher beat CNN breaking news in a battle to acquire one million followers on twitter[1].  When you look at the twitter statistics to see who’s got the most followers, you will see that eight out of the top ten are public figures. This proofs the public figures popularity, but what does it mean on the subject of public role models?

A role model can be defined as a cognitive construction, based on the attributes of a person in a social role, to whom an individual thinks to be equal and desires to increase this equality by striving for those same attributes[2].The term “role model” is derived from two theoretical concepts”

–         The concept of role and the urge of individuals to identify with people in important social roles

–         The concept of modelling, the psychological matching of cognitive skills and patterns of behaviour between a person and an observing individual

The first concept is based on the role identification theories, which presumes that individuals are attracted to people they consider equal in terms of attitude, behaviour and/or goals, or desire the same status as these people. The individual is motivated to increase equality through observation and/or imitation. The second concept is based on the social learning theory, which presumes that individuals look at models because it is helpful for acquiring new skills, tasks and norms. The identification theories emphasizes on the inspirational and self – defining aspects of role models, where the social learning theory focuses more on the learning process[2].

It could be discussed whether it is possible for an individual to consider a so called public person, a person often portrayed in the media, as a role model, because for a lot of people, these public figures only exist in the media. They are not close enough to really get to know them. Because of this distance it could be hard to identify with them or to match their skills and behaviour, which are criteria for considering someone as a role model. Still I think it is possible to have a public figure as a role model. Giddens[3] argues that the search for our own identity is a feature of our modern western society. He claims that the modern individual is constantly reflecting on him/herself to see what he/she has to change to reach the desired identity. People are constantly working on the development of their own identity. The identity develops through the choices the individual makes. These choices will eventually lead to a lifestyle, which determines the identity. The presence of role models is an important factor in the choice of a lifestyle. people use role models to develop their identity. Within the modern individual there’s a need for role models.

The uses & gratification approach claims that peoples media use depends on their needs. People use the media to fulfil their needs. They are selective in the messages they receive. They only give attention to those that match their needs. Because role models are considered a need in the search for identity, I argue people select those messages within the media which could help them find a role model. According to Fiske[4] the meaning of the message a person decides to receive depends on the position of the receiver regarding the subject of the message at the moment of receiving. The receiver determines the way the message is interpreted. This means a media message concerning a public figure could be interpreted by the receiver in a way that fits his or her needs in the search for a role model. This subjective interpretation makes it easier for a person to find a desired identity in a public figure and to identify with that public figure. A requirement for being able to identify with a public figure, and to mention this public figure as a role model is a sufficient amount of media exposure of that figure. There must be enough media exposure of the public figure to satisfy the needs of the identifying person. The mass media of course are very present in western societies, supplying enormous amounts of information about the lives of public figures, so it looks like the needs for information about possible public role models can easily be fulfilled. On the other hand, a lot of this information is second hand information, created by others than the actual public figure and thereby not a true insight in the life and the mind of the public figure. This could be considered a problem when regarding public figures as possible role models. The rise of Twitter is a very interesting phenomenon when thinking about this. On twitter people can actually read what the public figure thinks about on a daily basis. Twitter can give you an insight about what’s on the mind of a public figure. This is very useful for a person who considers a public figure as his or her role model. When trying to identify with and trying to become more equal through matching of skills and behaviour Twitter looks like a very helpful device for acquiring the wanted information. More than any other information source Twitter provides first hand information. Only a personal blog could be considered as personal as Twitter, but people tend to put their spontaneous thoughts on twitter before they process them in an extensive blog post. Besides that there’s the possibility to read both the personal blog and the tweets of a public person so twitter simply provides extra information instead of creating a conflict between different sources of information. Twitter’s offering of up to date first hand personal information about public figures seems to increase the possibility of having a public figure as a role model.

[1] http://www.dutchcowboys.nl/twitter/16762

[2] Gibson, D (2004) Role models in career development: New directions for theory and research. Journal of Vocational Behavior. 65 134 -156

[3] Giddens, A (1991) Modernity and self identity; Self and society in the late modern age. Cambridge: Polity press

[4] Fiske, J.(1987) Television Culture. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd.

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