Personal Identity 101: Contemporary World and Its Influence on Personal Identity

Foreword


Personal identity 101 was designed as an independent series of articles around the topic of identity and self. It joins various philosophical, psychological, and sociological theories to explain the importance of personal identity and its inspiration on different existential questions. Articles will be saturated with diverse ideas, concepts, and anticipated or scientifically proven theories that encourage readers to dive deeper into the topic and identify their position in this dilemma.


Personal Identity 101 consists of 8 articles. After completing the course, readers will be able to see the correlation between society and the self and vice versa.

  1. The Body Theory

  2. The Mind and Consciousness Theory

  3. The Soul Theory

  4. How Identity is Socially Constructed

  5. History, culture, and myself

  6. Contemporary World and Its Influence on Personal Identity

  7. Identity problems and solutions: Am I good enough?

  8. Future of Personal Identity: Flying cars and smiling Android


Contemporary World and Its Influence on Personal Identity


In the last couple of decades, humankind has made an extensive shift from face-to-face interaction to a world where the online realm is omnipresent - where interactions and presentation of self are done interminably via social media and computer-generated spaces. As a result, there are new questions in understanding personal identity that derive from this shift; for example, how does social media, as a ceaseless front stage, influences online self-presentation? What effect does the contemporary, social-media-driven world have on identity construction? This article aims to explore ties between the construction of identity, behavior, and society using Erving Goffman’s dramaturgical perspective - it explains the effect of the contemporary era and mass media on the development and alteration of the self.



Back Stage and Front Stage – A.K.A. who are you, when no one is watching?


In 1959 Canadian Sociologist Erving Goffman introduced the dramaturgical perspective in his new book The presentation of self in everyday life. Here, he explained human interaction and behavior using the metaphor of theater. He presents everyday social life as a “performance” displayed in two major places: front stage and back stage (Goffman, 1959).

Figure 1: Erving Goffman

Setting and context are crucial for a theater performance. Actors of the play have to talk, dress, and behave in a way that the audience expects from the character. Goffman claims that real life is not very different from theater; in fact, everyday life is constructed by shifts of the front stage and the back stage performances. Similar to the theater, social interaction is also shaped by the context and the circumstances under which it takes place; that is, individuals consider the background of the person they are communicating with before talking or acting in a certain way. How one functions professionally and how that same person acts while being alone are at odds - a hopeless contradiction that applies to almost every individual (Cole, 2019). In a few words, one constructs one's front stage behavior when he or she is being observed. Front stage behavior involves the construction of manners, appearance, and conversation based on the norms and values that are accepted in a given society (Goffman, 1959). The back stage, on the contrary, the individual is completely alone. As there is nobody to judge, one can feel more relaxed and less stressed: one cares less about small details, such as gestures and appearance, and feels free to act in a manner that they would never do in public; however, it is worth mentioning that back stage behavior is sometimes used for the rehearsal of front stage actions. For instance, choosing and trying on clothes for the upcoming stage performance, or practicing the speech in front of the mirror (Goffman, 1959).




Perpetual Front Stage and Presentation of Online Self

Figure 2: A man showing a picture of himself

As discussed above, the front stage is the place where one is interacting with others. In the modern world, social media represents omnipresent attention that demands careful planning and constructing of online identity, as one can be observed constantly if they are willing to get others involved in their life through the invisible eyes of the world wide web. The most significant feature of social media is the flexibility to present oneself as desired. The process of online identity construction starts by choosing a username. As discussed in 'Why are names important?'', names are the most important part of one’s identity. Moreover, individuals can further customize online profiles based on their preferences. They use various pictures, icons, language, and designs to demonstrate themselves in the way they wish to be perceived. Similarly to choosing clothes and accessories, these items bear symbolic meanings that comply with one’s identity (Papacharissi, 2002).


However, the distinction between online and offline identities is narrower than expected - people use the internet to stay connected to their contacts across the globe. Based on this, one’s online audience is aware of one’s offline identity; therefore, one continues applying their offline identity to the online world. (Ellison et al. 2007).

Influence of the Contemporary World and Social Media on the Construction of Identity

Creative female portrait - art assignment > displaying the concept of society's expectations upon females - specifically to do with plastic surgery
Figure 3: Plastic Surgery

Another important question asked in this chapter is "What effect does the contemporary, social-media-driven world have on identity construction?" Contemporary sociologists have driven deeper into our understanding of the self and the online realm. They claim that individuals create their identities via mass media and consumer goods (Marwick, 2013). In Modernity and Self-Identity, Lord Anthony Giddens explained construction and expression of self through consumption of the material (clothes, accessories, surgeries, etc.) and non-material (relationships, routines, etc.) products of our modern age. He refers to identity as a project that can be developed and changed. Woodward, reinforcing Gidden’s theory, adds that people often purchase goods that demonstrate who they are, or who they want to be seen as (Woodward, 1997). Designer clothes and trendy accessories are all used for marking personal identity. People no longer desire to remain the same person, rather, fashioning yourself into something better is the new, contemporary project.


To sum up, the first part of the article explores Goffman's dramaturgical model of self-representation. We discussed front stage and back stage behaviors and alterations of the presentation of the self-based upon this context. Apart from this, the article reviewed some of the most popular questions and ideas concerning the online world and identity. To conclude, we explained a few questions around the topic of personal identity that was initiated by the contemporary era. Anthony Giddens states that in the contemporary world identity is a project that is destined to change - unfailingly influenced by mass media. Individuals strive to change themselves into better selves; therefore, they use standard consumptions goods that are thought to be helpful in this process.






References:

  • Cole, N. L. (2019). The Difference Between Front Stage and Back Stage Behavior. ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/goffmans-front-stage-and-back-stage-behavior-4087971

  • Ellison, N., Steinfield, C., and Lampe, C. (2007). ‘‘The Benefits of Facebook ‘Friends’: Social Capital and College Students’ Use of Online Social Network Sites.’’ Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(4), 1143.

  • Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. Cambridge: Polity

  • Goffman, E. (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Anchor.

  • Marwick, A. E. (2013). A Companion to New Media Dynamics (J. Hartley, Ed.; 1st ed.). Blackwell Publishing Ltd. http://www.tiara.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/Marwick_Online_Identity.pdf

  • Papacharissi, Z. (2002). ‘‘The Presentation of Self in Virtual Life: Characteristics of Personal Home Pages.’’ Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 79(3), 643–660.

  • Woodward, K. (1997). Identity and Difference. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage

Image References:

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Irina Berdzenishvili

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