We are what we consume or we consume what we are? Maybe neither.

It is typically assumed that we have our identity, our personality, what makes us ourselves, and we interact within society and certain social spheres, adapting to each of them (i.e. school, home, parties). Each scope of action for a social agent means a different way to manifest its personality, to act, to represent a role; and each of them demand different sets of moral rules to obey in each case. This sociological phenomenon is known as preclusion.

According to Kenny, this leads to having a fragmented identity: with every community you perform in, you have a daimon. The real you is called eudaimon, and that’s the goal of an ethical life, when you are truthfully yourself and can be whole. On the other hand, the opposite concept exists: disdaimon, which applies when you don’t act like yourself in each of these social spheres. We create facade in our performances and representations and simply continue to reproduce the pattern once it’s established. This is just another indicator of the complexity of our society that drives us to create fragmented identities since it’s so hard to commit to just one.

And surely enough he see this also with our 2.0 identities. All the different platforms we are part of, those that we daily interact with and that become an extension of our real life, they all have a distinct code of conduct that range from small subtleties (i.e. Twitter and Facebook) to significant differences (specialized platforms like LinkedIn). Jose van Dijck states “Facebook and other SNSs favor the idea of people having one transparent identity that they disclose online, releasing habitual behavioral data and personal information in the process of socializing. Platform owners have a vested interest in pushing the need for a uniform online identity to attain maximum transparency, not only because they want to know who their users are, but also because advertisers want users’ truthful’ data” (van Dijck, 200). Beyond the commercial point he makes, which is something we can’t ever leave aside, he brings into the table this idea of and idealized wholesome identity as a little utopian, thus leaving us to contemplate the idea of fragmented identity in this context too.

What makes data lucrative for these companies is the ability to trace information traffic between people (or institutions, or products), which lead to a shift that van Dick estimated around 2008 when companies stopped caring about creating communities and focused on promoting storytelling, narratives and any other way of self-representation they could monetize. We can see this attempt, in Facebook’s recent effort in adding hashtags, a communication code typically used in Twitter, which could potentially represent a violation to the user agreement regarding privacy because it would imply making them openly public (article cited in references).

But how aware are we of the identity we are constructing online? As opposed to the natural socialization process that occurs while we grow up and interact with society and its institutions, and our belonging groups through several years, in the online world we have the advantage of entering with an already established identity, so we can either mimic it or make a new one. Lots of kids and teenagers take on cues from their favorite celebrities, or friends, or anything else they see, to conform their own identity 2.0 and represent themselves. So the process hasn’t changed, just the medium.

In the article, van Dijck distinguishes between the social self presented via Facebook and the professional self presented on LinkedIn, but this happens in every other social platform: the savvy self in Twitter, the crafty self in Pinterest, and the artistic self on Instagram. And it’s necessary to question how uniformed is the identity we construct in all these platforms? Does the nature of each platform determine the way in which we represent ourselves?

Consider the phenomenon of multi-screening, in which users use not only different platforms, but different media at the same time seems to upscale our multitasking abilities to a new level: we can be watching an event on tv, chatting directly with friends on our phones, checking social media platforms on our tablets, and at the same time looking on Reddit to see if someone already made a gif or a meme of what just happened. Do we maintain a wholesome identity while precluding, sharing and interacting through these spheres?

This new ways of conforming and performing identity imply a necessary shift in the way we conceive communication as a strategy, as Curtin and Gaither also noted when they talked about a new model for public relations that includes identity as a crucial factor and contemplates the many different voices typical of postmodernism and takes on Holtzhausen’s premise of the circumstantial nature of the communicative act. The Circuit of Culture is an articulated circular model with five main components (seen as “moments” by the authors) that interact with each other simultaneously to produce meaning: production, identity, representation, regulation and consumption.

This implies that meaning is contained in cultural products (production), those socially constructed meanings are given to define something (identity), they engage in symbolic processes through which we give meaning to things (representation), this is mediated in the context of cultural activity (regulation) and finally the way in which the product is consumed determines its meaning. A direct link between the individual and what it’s meaningful to him is established, which opens a new era for audience breakdown and target configuration.

On a TED Talk, Johanna Blakley talks about rigid segmentation methods, old school demographics typically used to define us. It was believed that if you fall into one of these categories, they can predict how you will act and feel, and thus, paradoxically, a great deal of production itself comes from this superficial, biased “knowledge”. Let’s think how much the whole process changes if we filter it with the Circuit of Culture model, allowing meaningful information to change the way in which audiences are considered.

This allows us to connect differently, based on very specific interests; it’s ”the mass audience of the future”, Blakley says, and as mentioned before, media companies are trying to figure it out: it’s better for them to find out about preferences, taste and values than about age, profession or income. And once that segmentation is appropriately done we can consider how we reach that audience: narrowcasting methods claim to be more effective than other approach strategies with a wider target would allow. So, technically, this is what can make a difference in the way we engage audiences: if it reaches us directly and pertinently it can be like cupid’s arrow; but if not, that arrow can just cause a splinter in our butt.

References

 

Blakley, J. (2011, February). Social Media and the end of gender. Ted conferences, llc. Retrieved from

http://www.ted.com/talks/johanna_blakley_social_media_and_the_end_of_gender.html

 

Bazalgette, P. (2009, February). Public service narrowcasting. Prospect Issue 155, 38-40.

 

Curtin, P.A. and Gaither, T.K. (2005). Privileging Identity, Difference, and Power: The Circuit of Culture as a Basis for Public Relations Theory. Journal of Public Relations Research 17(2), 91-115.

 

Goffman, E. (1990). The presentation of self in everyday life. New York, N.Y.: Doubleday.

Herrman, J. (2013 March). How Facebook Hashtags Would Change The Meaning Of “Public”. Buzzfeed. Retrieved from

http://www.buzzfeed.com/jwherrman/facebook-hashtags-and-the-meaning-of-public

Kenny, R. W. (2010). Beyond the Elementary Forms of Moral Life: Reflexivity and Rationality in Durkheim’s Moral Theory. Sociological Theory, 28, 2, 215-244.

Neuman, W. R., Just, M. R., & Crigler, A. N. (January 01, 1994). Common Knowledge: News and the Construction of Political Meaning. Media, Culture & Society, 16, 4, 702.

 

van, D. J., van, D. J., & van, D. J. (January 01, 2013). ‘You have one identity’: performing the self on Facebook and LinkedIn. Media, Culture & Society, 35, 2, 199-215.

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About fabvond

MSVU PR Masters student :)
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One Response to We are what we consume or we consume what we are? Maybe neither.

  1. mlalpr says:

    What a great piece, Fabiana!
    It just makes me think of how a person is perceived online through their ‘online presence’. Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are all great examples of social media, but they are all used for entirely different things? Where are we really ourselves: When we are out and about? When we work? Or perhaps when we are ranting our daily updates through Twitter?
    I like this idea that you projected in your article about the identity we are constructing online vs. our natural identity. It makes the reader really think about entering with an already established identity, so we can either mimic it or make a new one. I feel like with the way technology is now people do not develop into their identities they tend to more conform to how they see things.
    This is not only reality, but it also is a little disheartening when we think about what is most popular with music, television, and clothing these days. I say it is a quite contrast to the years prior to social media – perhaps it could also be a coincidence!
    A much as you want to remain professional online, it is hard not to hashtag events in your life that give you that relational feeling with your peers (Cover, 2012).

    Cover, R. (May 01, 2012). Performing and undoing identity online: Social networking, identity theories and the incompatibility of online profiles and friendship regimes.Convergence, 18, 2, 177-193.

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