“We have to really educate ourselves in a way about who we are, what our real identity is.” -Deepak Chopra
The age old philosophical question “Who am I?” has become even more difficult in our modern age. How do we define our identity “IRL” (the acronym for ‘in real life’)? Do we have a separate self apart from our digital or user profile? Do we further split our online personality across different platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest? How do we maintain authenticity and integrity throughout?
To educate ourselves about who we are, we can start by contemplating what comprises the self. One’s self-perception is defined by one’s self-concept, self-knowledge, self-esteem, and social self.
The image to the left (included in the Wikipedia entry for self-concept) displays the various aspects of the “self” according to one theory. Self-knowledge is defined as “consistent awareness of your values in context.” Self-esteem refers to your “overall emotional evaluation of your own worth.” (Your self-esteem can have direct impact on how much you value your personal information.)
Thorough self-knowledge and good self-esteem are important because they help you maintain perspective on the degree to which your online persona influences your “real” life. Our social identity and online reputation are no doubt important. Our network has become part of our identity. But balance is the key – and remembering that your social self is only one aspect of your identity.
Determining the value of your interactions on social media and other online technologies will help you maintain that balance.
Do We Spend a Disproportionate of Time Online as Our “Digital Self”?
According to new research released by Ipsos Open Thinking Exchange, Americans aged 18-64 who use social networks say they spend an average of 3.2 hours per day doing so. 1 in 5 users aged 18-34 reported spending 6 hours or more per day social networking.
In a recent Ipsos Mori survey on happiness in the developed world, respondents noted they were generally happy, but wished life were simpler and slower paced. One of the complaints involved the intensity of their digital lives and the amount of screen time they subjected themselves to every day. In the survey, 78% of Chinese, 71% of Britons, 71% of Australians and 67% of Americans agreed with the statement, “I am constantly looking at screens these days”.
How many hours per day do you spend focused on your real world self? When is the last time you dedicated time and energy to self-discovery and self-awareness? It is possible that less screen time and less focus on your digital self would make you happier?
Psychological Pitfalls Associated with Social Media
Recent psychological research suggests social media has a greater impact on our offline lives than we might realize.
Emergent studies show several potential negative effects of social media, including increased narcissism and “social depression.” One study to be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking, found that people who use Facebook excessively (interpreted by the researchers as checking it more than hourly) are more likely to “experience Facebook-related conflict with their romantic partners, which may cause negative relationship outcomes including emotional and physical cheating, breakup and divorce.”
It’s important to recognize you are more than your user profile. The simple transactional acts of social media—liking, faving, retweeting, pinning, and endorsing—fall far short of nuanced human interaction. The forms you fill out to describe yourself and your online search history may be useful for companies aggregating data, but they don’t go deep enough to capture your unique, multifaceted self.
Be aware of the pitfalls of “social depression” which results from excessive judging and comparing of ourselves to others online. Understand that a degree of mental stress is associated with keeping up online and always being connected.
Tips to Reinforcing Your Self Beyond Your “Social Profile”
1. Take periodic breaks from social media and online technology. Practice periodic “digital detoxes” or schedule specific times of the day where you are completely “offline” and fully present in the real world. To that end, take a look at the suggestions presented in this NYTimes article.
2. Take time for self-discovery and self-awareness so that you can form a complete circle of your “self.” Find a place of peace and solitude where you can be true to yourself. Spend time offline doing what you enjoy. Make time for “do nothing time.”
3. Consider what constitutes your “real identity.” What aspects of your “offline self” do you consciously hold back or are otherwise not part of your user profile?
You create your identity. You are not limited by your user profile. The information that data brokers and companies collect about you is only one slice of your life. The information you choose to share online is not the sum of who you are.
“In the social jungle of human existence, there is no feeling of being alive without a sense of identity.” -Erik Erikson
Part of feeling alive and experiencing the wonder of human existence comes from asking the difficult, sometimes uncomfortable, questions and tuning in to a deeper sense of self.
You are more than your user profile.