The Social Construction of the Self in the Era of Social Media

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A socially constructed phenomenon is dependent on contingent aspects of people’s social lives. Therefore, the item or event in question would not exist were it not for human input. For instance, money, newspapers, and citizenship would not be present in the absence of a functional society. Technology has revolutionized the formation of identities by creating an environment where conventional laws do not apply. The impact of technology on the social construction of the self is evidenced by society’s progressive adoption of individualistic tendencies that threaten traditional forms of communication and social interaction.

Constructing the Self

Transparent social constructions such as money and citizenship are incapable of existing without human societies. It, therefore, follows that items that exist without societal influence are not socially constructed. Kantian philosophy proposes the existence of a structureless world that exists outside the human mind. Humanity imposes structure in the world through its thoughts and the set of beliefs it chooses to embrace (Simmel & Hughes, 1949). This view is challenged by social constructionists who believe it is impossible to create physical objects by talking about them.

The philosophical argument that the self is socially constructed has been criticized by different schools of thought. For instance, Mead argues that rather than considering the self as a phenomenon that exists first and then interacts with others, it should be viewed as an eddy in the social current (Mead et al., 2015). He further states that self-consciousness is a state in which an individual becomes an object of their self-virtue as they relate with others in a social context. It is important to consider that subjectivity and individuality are not the results of a free and spontaneous inner will. Instead, they are distinct categories created by a socially organized system that forces individuals to think about themselves in terms that encourage the development of moral categories. This enables it to better manage and control human behavior. Understanding the distinction between being sentient and being a self is critical. The latter requires a significant degree of effort, meaning that individuals can fail to achieve it. This is because the self is not born but rather molded through a process of social exchanges and experience (Simmel, 2017). In a sense, it is a construct resulting from an individual’s exposure to political and cultural forces.

In order to effectively evaluate the social construction of the self, it is essential to assess three critical areas. These are the establishment of the self as a social construct, the processes in which the concept is embedded, and the political and cultural outcomes of conventional beliefs of the self. Humanity’s understanding of specific phenomena is dependent on cultural and historical comparisons, which illustrate the richness of people’s construction of the self.

The realities created by human beings are evident in their relationships. For instance, rules governing ethics are part of society’s normative practices and constitute living traditions. It is worth considering the manner in which vocabularies of the self sustain and rationalize cultural practices. Language is an important medium through which individuals carry out relations. It facilitates the sustenance of the connection between power and privilege.

It should be noted that there is a risk to constructing a reality that promotes the individual self. When pertinent distinctions between the self and other are established, the social world is defined in terms of differences(Durkheim, 2012). Individuals become isolated entities, alienated from the rest of society. In addition, a person begins to value autonomy, and depending on others is seen as a sign of weakness. The resultant reality promotes distrust because people are never certain of their counterparts’ intentions. Subsequently, ideas of self-gain become prevalent in various aspects of life, such as the sciences and culture. In such a scenario, ideas such as commitment, loyalty, and community hold little value in view of the fact that they may impede an individual’s self-realization(Wright, 1959). It is vital to note that the aforementioned ideals are characteristic of Western individualism.

Self-dysfunction is highlighted in the scientific constructs designed to explain the psychiatric concepts of mental illness. There is a debate that these diagnostic categorizations are intended to serve specific political and ideological interests. For instance, illnesses such as schizophrenia, anorexia, and depression are believed to be social constructs. These classification systems are seen as tools meant to ensure social control. Labeling individuals as mentally ill significantly amplifies the anguish experienced by the victims.

Arguments regarding humanity’s psychological characteristics prompted discussions on the reconceptualization of the self. Various authorities are attempting to create an ontology that changes the common belief that the bounded self the social world’s foundation(Simmel, 2017). Language plays a critical role in this new conception of the self because it obtains its meaning from the way individuals use it during interactions. This logic can be applied to discussions about the self, especially the manner in which people refer to the state of mind.

Memory and Self-reflection

The construction of identity is heavily influenced by social environments and social interactions. The ability to construct a self is dependent on the individual’s ability to store memories and reflect on their actions. A number of philosophers have stressed the importance of memory in shaping the self. In the traditional sense, a community’s collective memory played a fundamental role in shaping identities. Therefore, the collection and synthesis of information gathered from a variety of interactions facilitate the development of the self. The feedback process that characterizes social interactions is inextricably linked to memory. Individuals tap into past experiences of other people’s personal goals and perceptions to construct their ideal selves. Through the process of self-reflection, a person has the capacity to alter their identity depending on the social context provided their self-esteem is protected, and their identity is verified.

Technology and the ‘Self’

The proliferation of smartphone devices has changed how individuals construct the ‘self.’ These devices are designed to tap into humanity’s anthropomorphic tendencies in an attempt to create close relationships between people and technology. For instance, the interfaces through which users engage with these devices imitate the communication cycles of human interactions. A variety of applications in chat rooms and social media platforms enhance feelings of social presence as people talk to each other(O’Keeffe et al., 2011). The aim is to remind users of human-to-human communication in an attempt to positively influence the exchange’s credibility and promoting the illusion of real conversation. It is worth noting that prolonged interaction with these devices increases the probability of social interactions becoming mindless and automatic.

People’s interactions with technological devices as social beings are transforming into something deeper. Individuals have started changing how they construct the self by considering technology as an extension of their personas(Shifman, 2014). There are numerous examples in the past where tools have been incorporated into various identities. For instance, knives became extensions of the hand and led to increased strength, seeing as individuals were able to protect themselves more effectively. Today, technology is evolving into an inextricable part of human cognition. It is worth noting that technology is occupying people’s mental and cognitive faculties because they believe they have perceptive control over devices. In addition, contemporary cultural influences facilitate the assignment of meaning to possessions, and the convenience provided by smart devices is contributing to this new trend.

Humanity is gradually getting detached from its physical surroundings as the online environment becomes filled with a variety of intriguing distractions. An increasing number of individuals are developing a fear of missing out on a variety of social events(Perloff, 2014). The connection between technology and the self is so intense that some people feel psychologically disturbed if they forget their smart devices at home(O’Keeffe et al., 2011). This intense internalization has significantly affected people’s construction of the self. There has been a massive shift in people’s memories and cognitive patterns with regard to their conception of society. For instance, collective memories are progressively getting replaced by transactive memories, given that people can quickly access information through their devices. Interactions with technology are changing the way people think and process information. There is increased fragmentation, and individuals barely have the time to focus on a topic meaning that their working memory is constantly dealing with more information than it can process. This significantly reduces the reliance on cognitive abilities, and individuals are often convinced into thinking that their superior mental abilities facilitated the provision of the right answer.

Social Media and the ‘Self’

Over the past few years, a significant shift has been experienced as a result of the introduction of technological devices. Society has seen a transformation in the way it operates, communicates, and facilitates relationships. This contemporary societal structure ensures that people are constantly distracted by waves of media content through smart mobile devices. Individuals are focused on getting connected to as many “others” as possible. People are intent on connecting to the whole world through the internet. This online environment has brought forth new structures of interaction, thinking patterns, and interactions that are intrinsically changing humanity’s fundamental nature. Society’s increasing dependency on tools is changing the mechanisms applied in the construction of the self.

Mead’s theory of the self combines critical aspects of social identity and symbolic interaction. He split human identity into two parts, namely “I” and “Me,” where the former refers to a person’s desire to discover their identity by observing their behavior(Mead et al., 2015). The latter was the result of social interactions with others. The combination of the effects of social contexts and an individual’s inherent identity is the best approach to take when evaluating the impact of technology on the construction of the self.

The growth of technology’s influence in people’s lives means that interactions and social conditions play a significant role in shaping their identities. In the past, traditional social influencers were limited to family, friends, the media, and the immediate community who promoted positive messages about identity. Today’s environment is marginally different in the sense that the balance between external and internal influencers has been altered. As a result, contemporary influences are not passive and innocent figures of positivity. Through technological advances, they reinforce society’s self-identity by showing people portraits of whom they should become by tapping into their overwhelming desire to feel good, attractive, and accepted(Shifman, 2014). Individuals have the means to create identities in the digital space in a number of different ways. Goffman argues that identities have evolved into masks that can be taken off depending on the context of social interaction(Goffman, 2017). There is an increased intensity of presentational culture given the fact that people are able to engage more with the self through online profiles.

There are a variety of theories that explain the formation of the self. It is believed that the phenomenon is divided into subclasses that cooperate to form a person’s self-concept, the spiritual self, the social self, pure ego, and the material self (Persson, 2018). The social self is the most pertinent to this discussion. Human beings have an overpowering desire to be noticed, which means individuals create as many parts of the social self as there are people to impress. In philosophical circles, this is often referred to as the relational self.

Technological advances have led to the creation of new ways through which people interact and maintain social relationships. Social media platforms are the main arena where self-representation is carried out. It is vital to note that the physical deterrents and social cues that characterize conventional face-to-face interactions are non-existent. Therefore, individuals are capable of interacting across vast geographical divides using a curated version of the self (Shifman, 2014). People’s constant interaction with technology is changing their personalities and identities.

It is vital to note that social media platforms present users with a variety of options regarding the construction of the self. People use online platforms to create versions of the self that are either authentic or deceptive depending on the social context (Perloff, 2014). This is because users are not inhibited by reality which places certain restrictions on an individual’s capacity to alter the self. As such, ideal personas are created based on ideas that social peers consider acceptable. This concept is not new because Goffman proposed the idea that the presentation of the self is a performance (Goffman, 1959). It is worth noting that the increased importance of social media sites in society has led to the increased desire to create multiple selves among users. Technology has provided an avenue for the exploration of multiple elements of the self.

Social media platforms have altered the nature of human interaction in a variety of ways. Society has transitioned from limited communication opportunities to an environment that provides access to millions of users. This means that people do not connect with individuals in a social circle seeing as they constantly seek opportunities to voice their concerns rather than listen. In addition, the restrictive special conditions have been expanded immensely, and information is easily accessible to the public. Society has evolved into a collection of public beings willing to receive feedback from every corner of the world at any time. This opportunity for feedback influences the manner in which people construct their identities.

Online platforms allow people to create and design the self in the manner they find most fitting. The desire to manage the impression made on others informs the techniques used to craft specific identities. In addition, a self-perpetuating cycle of behavior stimulated by feedback from social media platforms may encourage derogating of self-enhancing acts depending on the individual’s internal view of the self (Perloff, 2014).Repeatedly exercising these activities may lead to their internalization and incorporation into a person’s constructed identity. In essence, people get to know themselves by changing their personas depending on people’s reactions to their online presence.

Distance and the absence of social norms embolden people leading to the generation of curated selves that are significantly different from those that prevail in offline contexts. Individuals often develop an exaggerated sense of their abilities and develop a superior attitude towards others. In addition, they are prone to impulsivity and adherence to a new moral code. This is because users are not subject to the physical realities in the offline world that enforce constraints on the expression of feelings such as anger and aggression. Therefore, the online environment allows for the expression of the less restrained version of the self (Perloff, 2014). For some people, the online space is a place or re-enact unresolved conflicts and play out personal challenges. They can focus on talking about themselves, promoting the development of a narcissistic culture.

In view of the aforementioned ideas, Goffman developed a critical theory regarding various versions of the self. He proposed that these multiple representations of personality were akin to actors engaged in a theatrical performance (Goffman, 1959). The images of perfect lives that crowd social media platforms hamper people’s ability to engage in rational self-reflection, which is a vital aspect of identity construction. The fact that the curated selves do not compare to offline realities limits the individual’s ability to evaluate themselves using the traditional standards of self. The resultant feelings of inadequacy prompt individuals to engage in activities where they feel recognized. The desire for attention often drives people to engage in outlandish behavior.

Technology has facilitated the development of a culture of narcissism in the online environment. It offers the illusion of companionship and eliminates the demands for intimacy. Humanity’s dependence on constantly edited selves will inevitably lead to the degradation of offline communication skills. People work to avoid face-to-face interactions as they seek refuge in an online world that allows them to become whomever they desire. As a result, people are constructing identities from feedback driven by selfish egos. The effects are filtering into the offline world as individuals construct selves that are reliant on the online versions. The fact remains that the online world is not a reflection of the offline world (O’Keeffe et al., 2011). These interactions are progressively becoming ingrained into society resulting in damaging consequences. For instance, a number of individuals are suffering from serious mental health issues as they struggle with the challenges associated with high impression management.

Conclusion

Technology has changed how individuals engage in the social construction of the self. It has facilitated the modification of the functions of self-reflection, memory, and identity formation. Humanity is becoming increasingly dependent on smart devices as a means to communicate and interact. As a result, they are evolving into extensions of the self. The online environment encourages the development of narcissistic attitudes and the development of a self that is dictated by other people’s opinions and views. These curated identities can be modified depending on the social context, which promotes people’s detachment from reality. The struggle that ensues negatively affects people’s mental health as they fight to reconcile their online personas to the realities of the offline world. It is vital to balance between the benefits presented by technology and the detrimental effects associated with complete isolation from the real world.

References

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