I have recently been confronted by the notion that your identity is not something you create yourself, but instead emerges through interactions with others. In the age of the selfie, it’s almost impossible to disagree that one’s image is almost always influenced by responses to their online identity – for some, this has idea has develop into the concept of the micro-celebrity and the branded self. While the documenting of endeavours and the posting selfies began as an indulgence, it’s uses have since multiplied — turning it into a tool of business.
An Oxford Dictionary definition.
Focusing particularly on the angle of what effect social media and the selfie have on the development of our identity and exploring its uses, what intrigues me most is whether or not this 21st century phenomenon hinders or enhances our sense of self. Taking into account the development of the branded-self, I can’t help but wonder if confidence in self-exposure is a somewhat self-fulfilling prophecy, mimicking the Pygmalion Effect.
I’m going to use a personal example to further illustrate my point:
I know a girl who had started an Instagram account with a mere 300 followers, posting selfies and tagging companies of clothing and products used as though she were promoting products that she had been gifted due to her influence status. She continued doing so over a period of 12 months, slowly amassing a whopping 125k. How had she managed to accomplish such a following? When users of the platform saw that she was tagging and thanking these companies, they followed her on the assumption that she must be of some importance. In turn, her number of followers climbed.
She then purchased thousands of fake followers and if you were curious enough to click on the accounts of those followers, you would see that they were in-fact inactive. Companies viewed her account, saw that she was tagging others, witness the high amount of followers and began offering her content for promotion. She was being mentioned on a number of high profile fashion sites, her followers grew — this time real — and as a result, today she has a modeling contract, receives free products and attends exclusive events.
“If one takes oneself to be a business, one should also take oneself to be an entity that requires a brand.” (Gershon 2014, p.281)
While this demonstrates positive aspects of exposure via social media, there is another point that I feel is important to make. If Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor is correct, and our identity is in fact partly shaped by both the recognition and misrecognition of others, then it may in fact be far more of a hindrance than it is constructive.
As Taylor goes on to explain, “a person or group of people can suffer real damage, real distortion, if the people or society around them mirror back to them a confining or demeaning or contemptible picture of themselves.” An example of such is referenced by Senft and Baym (2015, p.1600), where images can be turned into memes as an attempt at comic relief, not taking into consideration the feelings of the subject in the image.
As Senft and Baym (2015, p.1588) explain, the practice of the selfie still remains “fundamentally ambiguous, fraught, and caught in a stubborn and morally loaded hype cycle” to this day. I’ll leave it up to you to come to a conclusion of your own, just remember — what matters most is how you see your self.
SENFT, T, & BAYM, N 2015, ‘What Does the Selfie Say? Investigating a Global Phenomenon’, International Journal Of Communication (19328036), 9, pp. 1588-1606, Communication & Mass Media Complete.
GERSHON, I 2014, ‘Selling the Self in the US’, Political and Legal Anthropology Review, 37, pp.281-295, American Anthropological Association.