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Understanding our digital persona
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Understanding our digital persona
Pass it on
Pass it on
I'm reading
Understanding our digital persona
Pass it on
Pass it on
Articles
28 January 2016

Understanding our digital persona

How exactly do we mediate and experience ourselves through the internet?

Written by Liz Evans

Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people. Dumbo Feather is a magazine about these people.

Image source: Micolo J/Flickr

Social media is both a pleasure and a curse. The opportunities afforded by instant, albeit remote, connections are fantastic, but also potentially addictive. People now draw analogies between websites like Facebook and drugs like crack cocaine, and for good reason. Research studies conducted by neuroscientists in the US and Germany have shown that the part of our brains activated by substances like cocaine also lights up when we jump onto Facebook. But interestingly, it’s not the connection with others that’s giving us a rush, it’s the gratification of self-connection. Apparently we’re getting hooked on self-relevant feedback. The question is – what self? How exactly do we mediate and experience ourselves through the internet?

We all have a social face that we present to the world. Actually we have many, including those linked to gender, culture, profession and age. Carl Jung spoke of this as persona, describing it as “a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual”. A healthy, functioning persona is important and necessary, because we need to perform socially and professionally. The aim is to do that without losing sight of our deeper, more authentic self. The problems start when we begin to identify with our social selves, when we lose the ability to distinguish between how we experience ourselves and how others perceive us, and when we cannot separate from what we believe society expects of us. If we can’t tell where we end and where the world begins, we’re in trouble.

When we enter the uniquely disembodied realm of social media, we edit ourselves for the specific purpose of online broadcasting in a way we would – indeed, could – never do in any other domain. We hone and craft our digital personas alone, at leisure, away from the dynamics afforded to us by the presence of another living, breathing being. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, of course. It can be enormously fun. But we need to be peculiarly mindful of this process if we are to truly stay in touch with ourselves throughout it, especially if we are beginning to feel curiously validated by it.

Bulgarian writer and Brain Pickings blogger, Maria Popova, has softly lamented the difference between her letter-writing self and her email-writing self, wondering and admittedly worrying about “how such shifts in medium might shape what parts of ourselves we manifest, which in turn add up to the sum total of our personal identity”. She cites an eloquent essay on contemporary communication by American author Rebecca Solnit, who notes how “the new chatter” assuages “fears of being alone without risking real connection. It is a shallow between two deeper zones, a safe spot between the dangers of contact with ourselves, with others”.

What we craft and share of ourselves is one thing, but how does social media shape our perceptions of others? British writer Jeannette Winterson once said that the internet has made us dissatisfied with our lives, because now we can see what everyone else is up to, and it always looks so much better than what we’ve got. She has a point. When we are drawn away from ourselves towards what we imagine is going on with others, we can get lost in a tangle of fantasies and projections. The internet accelerates this by enabling us to serve up sumptuous lifestyle blogs, impressive Facebook posts and fabulous professional websites to each other, but the more vulnerable among us might lose focus and even self-confidence amid such a dazzling parade. Some of us may fall prone to feelings of inadequacy, anxiety or discontent, particularly if our sense of self has started to become shaped by our own personal news feeds.

Studies like Queensland University of Technology’s All the World Wide Web’s A Stage (which looks at how teenagers use social media) are highlighting the increasingly powerful impact that social networking has in forging our identities, so we need to make sure we have a real, and a really carefully considered, say in the matter of how we move in this relatively new but extremely important realm. If we engage consciously with social media – and the key word here is consciously – whether through what we create of ourselves, or how we receive and understand others, digital personas can be a highly effective means of communication and connection both professionally and personally. But unconscious online engagement might just make us disappear.

As Jung says, “Never shall we put any face on the world other than our own, and we have to do this precisely in order to find ourselves.” Today, that includes the virtual world.

Liz Evans

Liz Evans is a Jungian psychotherapist and writer based in Hobart.

Image Micolo J. Source: Flickr.

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