Discussion of some of the ways in which mobile media and communications can influence our experience of identity.

Mobile media can be used as a tool to “extend an individual’s physical presence” (Turkle, 1995, p. 20), however, for the majority of young people it has become a necessary element of their professional, social and personal life. Communication through our mobile device can alter our experience of identity and revise the way we see others and ourselves; consequently, many young people’s experience of identity is very different to that of someone who grew up without access to mobile media.

“A bewildering and proliferating range of cultural activities revolve around cell phones” (Goggin, 2006, p. 2), perhaps most importantly, they can allow for the communication with anyone around the world, even when we are on the go. This collapse in time and space means people can create “virtual communities” (Turkle, 1995, p. 21); there are “countless options of groups formed around an endless variety of topics” (Amichai-Hamburger & Schneider, 2014, p. 318). A great example of an online community is ‘Pottermore’, an extension of the Harry Potter universe where users can find out which Hogwarts house they are in, get the latest news and so on.

These types of groups can help people create deep, meaningful relationships with individuals they have never met and “who shares one’s activity preferences” (Amichai-Hamburger & Schneider, 2014, p. 318). This can stimulate us intellectually and encourage our interests further. Our mobile phone grows to be the “location for our fantasies” (Turkle, 1995, p. 24), where we can find friends and even lovers.

These online communities can also affect the way we communicate as we often adjust the colloquialisms we use to any group of people we are talking to. Many online fandom’s create slang; the Star Wars fans have based slang words off of their favourite movies, for example, “E chu ta” has come to mean something along the lines of “go away” after it was spoken by C-3PO in The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

In this way, mobile media has become a large part of our human experience and “the traditional distance between people and machines has become harder to maintain” (Turkle, 1995, p. 21). Arguably, our mobile media has come to contain much of who we are and “young people’s offline and online worlds are psychologically connected” (Dennis, Michikyan, & Subrahmanyam, 2015, p. 56). Our digital photographs hold our memories, our Pinterest app holds our inspiration, our Facebook app holds our friends, and our group chat holds our best inside jokes. These new technologies are “evocative” (Turkle, 1995, p. 22) and create a need for “the reformation of social rules and appropriate etiquette” (Goggin, 2006, p. 127).

Mobile media gives young people the perfect opportunity to explore our ideas and desires because; behind the comfort of a screen we can experiment with our identity in ways that are hard to do in real life. Experimenting with our identity is regularly associated with adolescence, Turkle notes that during this age we “try on” different political opinions, philosophical beliefs, even morals, “to test and develop emergent ideas of self” (Turkle, 2005, p. 132). Erikson called this time the “moratorium”: “between the morality learned by the child, and the ethics to be developed by the adult” (1964, p. 236). The Internet makes identity work for young people easier allows adults to somewhat continue this period covertly. In online games and social media we can construct ourselves in various ways, or even assume a whole new persona. For example, Instagram is a photo-sharing app, on which many users post selfies and various photos with captions. Many users spend hours posing to get the perfect picture and exaggerate their experiences to seem more appealing and thrilling than they actually are. This produced character can be “a statement not only about who you are but who you want to be” (Turkle, 2011, p. 180) and how you want others to view you. It can feel as though we are living out our dreams, and this is part of where mobile media gets its’ holding power.

For some people, their online persona can feel like ‘the real’ them. The way they ‘should’ be, but due to various real life restrictions, cannot be. A valuable example of this is the way non-heterosexual young people perceive “LGBT-orientated social networking websites are spaces of relative safety” and can “rehearse new sexual identities” before “telling friends and family” (Downing, 2013, pp. 45-46).

However, for others, their online façade can be taxing to uphold, which can be an upsetting ordeal and can perhaps make some people feel worse about themselves when their “real self does not match the ideal” online representation. (Dennis, Michikyan, & Subrahmanyam, 2015, p. 56). Turkle points out that on Facebook “much that might seem straightforward is fraught” (2011, p. 181), and yet, many people nowadays, especially young people, feel pressure to continue with this misrepresentation because social media is “so important to high school social life” (Turkle, 2011, p. 183). We are living in a society where appearance seems to be everything; so for young people, it feels as though if you have an underwhelming online presence, others will believe that you have an underwhelming life.

On the other hand, Turkle does propose that identity experimentation can make us realize things about ourselves and let us improve the way we live our real life. For example, it can help us evolve into a more confident person or allow us to assess how an attribute will be received by other people. For some, virtuality is not an extension of their lives, but more of a transitional space to enhance their real life; it can provide “the safety for us to expose what we are missing so that we can begin to accept ourselves as we are” (Turkle, 1995, p. 263).

Nonetheless, mobile media can make some people discover disagreeable sides of their identities, meaning they release a side of themselves that they would never let loose in real life. It is this that can lead to normal people acting as cyber-bullies and trolls. Their mobile screen lets them become someone mean, and this could be part of their identity that they did not know they had.

The way we construct our identity around our mobile media is a perfect illustration of the way post-modern thinkers consider identity. The Internet “has contributed to thinking about identity as multiplicity. On it, people are able to build a self by cycling through many selves” (Turkle, 1995, p. 178). For instance, many young people have a persona for their Instagram, which only their friends and peers will see; another persona for their Facebook, which family and potential employers will also see; as well as a persona for a professional site such as LinkedIn, on which they want to look as professional as possible. Contrary to older views based on stories of Jekyll and Hyde, con artists, and cross-gender impersonators, “multiple identities are no longer so much at the margins of things”. Many people now consider identity as “a set of roles that can be mixed and matched” (Turkle, 1995, p. 180), whereas in the past identity was deemed to be built up over time into a rigid character. You were believed to have a lifelong “inner direction” (Riesman, Denney, Gitlin, & Glazer, 2001, p. 324).

Due to being constantly connected to friends and family with mobile media, young people have become dependent on fast responses, ‘likes’ and attention. Nikhita, Jadhav, and Ajinkya recognize that our need for our devices has “been found to be an emerging public health problem.” (2015, p. 6). Mobile phones mean that many young people do not “have the experience of being alone with only him or herself to count on” (Turkle, 2011, p. 173). It is impossible to develop true independence because everything is a quick ‘Google’ or instant message away. As they are constantly ‘on call’ young people can find their relationships “both sustaining and constraining. Connectivity brings complications” (Turkle, 2011, p. 175).

Young people have also become dependent in an emotional sense. By constantly broadcasting their feelings and judgments online, they can instantly receive validation from their friends, family, or strangers. Riesman referred to this insecure attitude as an other-directed sense of self: when someone relies on “their contemporaries” as a “source of direction” (Riesman, Denney, Gitlin, & Glazer, 2001, p. 94). As soon as we have a thought, we simply write a ‘Tweet’ about it and we will almost instantly have a response. Turkle notes, that though these exchanges are fleeting, this is all we need because “the necessity is to have someone be there”. You simply “take what you need and move on. And, if not gratified, you can try someone else” (Turkle, 2011, p. 177).

This dependable tethering to all of your Facebook friends also means that it is impossible to be truly alone. Given that solitude “relies upon the human capacity to reflect upon and interpret one’s own experiences” (Averill & Long, 2003, pp. 21-22), if we are never alone then we have no opportunity contemplate our identity and, conceivably, we can never in fact be at peace with our own company. This reliance on mobile technology means that many young people find seclusion uncomfortable; “stillness makes them anxious.” (Turkle, 2011, p. 289)

“Held near to or on the human body” the mobile phone “plays a vital role in the emotional identity of the user” (Goggin & Hjorth, 2014, p. 317) and in many ways mobile media can help people broaden their interests, beliefs and identity. Through connecting with people from around the world and exploring the various parts of their personality, mobile media can assist us in being the person we want to be. Nonetheless, it can also have adverse effects on a person’s experience of self. Fixed access to mobile media can cause young people to struggle with autonomy and come to rely on validation from neighbours, which arguably means that they are more insecure and have a lesser sense of self.

 

Bibliography:

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