Episode 77: How technology shapes our Identity

When we post something on social media, are we sharing something about ourselves? Or is this specific technology shaping what we say and therefore think about who we are? Do we choose our identity? Or is our identity shaped and even determined by external forces like technology and social media?


This week Clay and Sarah discuss how technology shapes our identity.


In this episode:

* What is our identity made of?

* How is identity shaped?

* To what extent are internal or external forces more important?

* Technology and Personal Identity in a co-constructive relationship

* Identity online – is it you?

* Second life, anonymity and alternate identities


Humans and technology exist in a co-constructive relationship, argues Ulkrike Schultze in her TED talk on identity. “We become what the technology allows us to become.

We would like to think that this means that, much like the advent of iron tools or electricity, technology is enabling us to become better selves. Or at least it is cultivating genuine aspects of our identity.

However, many now argue that with the rise of social media and online worlds, external forces now play a disproportionately strong influence over our self identities. “One of the most powerful ways in which technology is altering self-identity is through the shift from being internal to externally driven,” claims Jim Taylor in an article entitled “Is technology stealing our identities?”


But what is this vague concept we call Identity? And why is it so important?

Identity comprises all knowledge about ourselves — our personality, aptitude’s, capabilities, physical attributes, interest and relationships. It’s all in there. And of course we elevate certain aspects of our identity above others in terms of importance.

And we understand our identity from two sources — (1) our own experiences that shape what we think about ourselves, what we like or dislike, what we are good at, what we are capable of etc. And (2) external feedback we receive on these aspects from other people.

The way we view ourself matters. “Your identity is your vector,” says Reid Hoffman in “Shape Your Identity or It Will Shape You”. “It is a path defined by what you do and why you do it. By indicating your direction, it helps you define your options.”

But what if our identity starts to be shaped instead by what we learn about ourselves (or think we learn) from social media? What if we assume comments we received meant something other than what they were intended? Or what if a lack of comment was a result of a Facebook algorithm that meant our post didn’t get seen by our friends, and not as we might believe, a result of our friends not liking our post?

What if the things we see on social media in others give us a warped view not only of that person and their life, but what kind of life people are leading in general and what is possible?

Technology and social media “no longer holds a mirror to reflect our self-identities. Nor does it provide feedback about how grounded our self-identities are in the reality of our lives,” says Jim Taylor.

What do you think? To what extent is social media and modern technology influencing our identities and the ways we conceive of ourselves? To what extent were these things always influenced by external forces and we must continue to fight to determine our own identities?