Identity is perceived as the way we view ourselves, and in turn the way different groups in society see us. It is the way we view our potential and qualities that we possess as an individual, especially in relation to social contexts. Often self-identity is achieved in two ways, through self-awareness and observation of others. Therefore, our social world has a very significant impact on the way we view and define ourselves. Despite the iconic status of social media, in the past two decades our social worlds have changed drastically. This essay will discuss the development of social media and the Internet and the impact it places on the self and identity.
The social identity theory highlights that “individuals strive to maintain or enhance their self esteem; they strive for a positive self concept” (Tajifel and Turner, 1979). Generally in previous generations people didn’t have access to the Internet, hence when they achieved something they would have to prove it by actually doing it in order to receive the gratification and recognition of other people. However, due to the development of online social networking in the 21st century this has added a new dimension to the theory of social identity. Nowadays people are given the chance to adequately portray themselves, what they do, what they care about and even how old they are inaccurately in order to receive recognition, gratification or acceptance. In the past, the word ‘social’ used to refer to a person who attended social gatherings, get togethers, and spent quality time with friends and relatives. However, now its definition has changed completely due to the development of social media. Nowadays people are now being considered social if they are spending hours on social media, rarely ever interacting with those friends offline.
We are often subject to rely on others’ perceptions, judgements and appraisals to develop our social self. Sociologist, Charles Cooley used the term “looking glass self” in order to describe this process. Cooley theorised that our view of ourselves not only comes from direct contemplation of our personal qualities, but also from our perceptions about how we are being perceived by others. Selfies, which are self-taken photographs of ourselves and others, are commonly used to communicate a message such as our physical looks, persona and interests – or in other words our self-identity. By taking selfies and uploading them to social media, many groups particularly teenagers use them to form their identity. They often serve as a way to test how they and others look, and therefore feel, in certain outfits, makeup, poses and places. Many have a pressure to take the right picture, with the right filter, wearing the right outfit. We are conditioned to project only our best, unrealistic, selves on our social media profiles as a modern way of virtually keeping up with the expectations and what we believe is right. The danger however, is that our self-identity no longer belongs to ourselves. According to Cooley, we are not actually being influenced by the opinions of others, but instead we are being influenced by what we imagine the opinion of other people to be. The ideal self versus our own self-image has a huge influence on the persona we construct and which we put out to the cyber universe based on the person we want to be, and more importantly, the person we want to be seen as.