The Search for Identity in the Digital Age

In recent decades the exponential growth of communications, digitalisation and social media has meant an expanding digital-scape for the individual to work with. This transition to the presentation of our beings on electronic platforms changes the way in which we view ourselves, our self-worth and how we present ourselves to the world. We are no longer dealing with forging our identities in a solely actualised sphere, but succumbing to the transient chronology of identity which can be compacted neatly into a timeline upon a screen. With buzzwords such as ‘content’, ‘influencers’ and ‘creators’ in circulation, we are seemingly in a hurry to project ourselves as art onto a digital canvas.

The primary concern of our online platform usage seems to be aesthetics. We are convoluted with rituals of polished selfies, matching Instagram feeds and a spectrum of different categories which we are given to choose from when we go to express ourselves. Take Instagram for example: various tropes of ‘goth girls’ or ‘minimalist aesthetics’ have been born of the platform, which arguably spurs repetition and kills creativity. Individuals seem to replicate themselves under an array of genres exclusive to the internet, ensuring their lives conform to match their digital selves. We praise beauty, but scorn lack of originality. Though trends and trendsetting have always been around, and perhaps have just migrated to operate online, what is new is the way in which we can crop, airbrush and tamper with our lives. Yet it does not erase the uncertainty which lies outside of the frame.

Due to the expanse of identities out there, it can then become challenging to go online and feel like we are producing something which is sustainable and original. How can we profoundly distinguish ourselves when it feels like it has already been done? This aesthetic replication of selfhood can be problematic, as it is almost impossible to create profiles for ourselves which feel authentic and honest. It could be considered that there still would have been a problem regarding originality a few years ago, as there would have been a somewhat false sense of originality based on the lack of access to other information out there. Books, articles and films were in scarcer circulation. With every click, and every file uploaded, we move further and further from any notion of truth.

Using social media becomes a wholly calculated act in which we then exist for a select timespan in another dimension. Our online profiles seek truth, yet can only ever take on the form of a dummy or maquette of our character. We become symbiotic with our online self. We supplement and feed their presence therefore they cannot exist without us, however they are still operating when we aren’t. One exists without the other yet they cannot be solely independent. Those around us then judge us based on this character too, the one they see online, as they become synonymous with each other. Easily intertwined and easily mistaken: false illusions, like a mirror pointed at another mirror. When paired with our online selves, we are boundless nobodies.

We read each other in new ways no longer based on experience at face value but instead based upon the narratives of our online alter egos. A predominant force in the creation of alter-egos stem from the rise of dating apps. Often before meeting someone on face to face terms we now have preconceived ideas about one another. Dating platforms fuel the judgmental behaviour we are all guilty of. For Tinder you must condense yourself down to a bio of a few lines and your best photos. Your identity becomes surface level, conforming to unspoken rules and boundaries dictating that you must be funny but not trying too hard, pretty but not posey, have lots of friends but still stand out. And if you aren’t interesting enough within the space of three messages, you may immediately be deemed incompatible.

We become indifferent to digital profiling, losing any of the nuances which come with meeting someone for the first time in person. No one will write down the fact that they have a lisp which you may find charming, a smile you’ll eventually fall for, or an untameable piece of hair which speaks volumes. Your online dating profile becomes a two dimensional version of you seeking to present yourself in an ego-driven snapshot. Though there is no shame in using these apps, it is highly likely you have been trained to filter out anything you dislike about yourself, and present on a silver platter your best features.

However it is not just imagery aesthetics which are connected to our digital identity, it is also the transmission and absorption of information in every single manner possible. In a world where such torrential floods of news are accessible at any given moment, it is hard for even our own opinions to not just become regurgitated fragments of somebody else’s narrative; whether we are conscious of this mimicry or not. In the choices we make about which pages to follow and which media outlets to ignore, we are then moulding our real world viewpoints beyond comprehension. In choosing to follow one news source or the other, we have implemented a self-inflicted form of propaganda upon ourselves. The decision to turn the ‘Follow’ button on Twitter from empty, to blue, is not always an easy one.

Instagram, Twitter and Facebook can be comparable to white noise at times. Yet while abstaining from social media can feel like missing out, indulging in such platforms can become a self-inflicted downfall. Whilst often being used as a driving force for positive change, it is with caution that I urge this generation to build their identities based upon such volatile platforms on the internet, but instead use it as a secondary means of expression as opposed to a foundation or basis of a sense of self. The internet is a perpetual static in which we are flooded with endless information, blankly searching for meaning. Perhaps a postmodern form of expression in a world where we feel we have seen every type of outrageous rebellious identity and obscure self expression, culture and anti-culture. We break into a new realm of cyber identity. One which seems ever changing, new-age and progressive, yet is anything but real.

Emily Black 


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