Critics · Facebook · Identity · privacy · Sociology · Theory · Virtual Identity

The Internet and Identity Fragmentation

Or: The long version of why I am deleting my Facebook profile

It has been argued, by people smarter than I, that the human identity, as it exists in its current state, is fragmented due to a variety of forces of our social environment.  Some people say that we are post-modern selves; fragmented, lost, and ruled by a highly advanced capitalist logic.  Some people say that the Internet perpetuates the emergence of a post-modern self which will eventually lead us to a dytopian land that exists somewhere between Oceania and the Brave New World.  Personally, I am uncertain of what the future will hold for the indiviudual identity.  I can see many possibilities and prefer not to be so deterministic.  However, I can see, and rationalize, how the Internet is going to shape that future of the human identity.

It’s hard to decipher the nuances of a concept like identity on a collective level.  Identity is a multitude of things.  And while I could go on and on about the many different ways in which the concept of identity has been interpreted, I would prefer to just discuss the widely accepted psycho-social notion of roles (a la Goffman)

We each exist in a variety of headspaces, as interactors with our environment.  We are shaped and informed by physical things – like hormone levels (moods and personality); how we physically feel (sickness and health); and where we are physically loacted (at home, at school etc); by social things – like education and law and media; and by that final mysterious ingredient of cognition, being and knowing.  As we interact with things in these areas of our lives, we create states for our selves to exist in.  These states are the roles we assume when given the particular mash-up of all of the variances occur in conjuction with aforementioned triggers.

I’ll use myself as an example to try and make this point clearer:

My role as a Woman – the state in which I exist is shaped by the physical traits that make me a woman.  This state is also influenced by social expectations in behaviour and demeanor, and being a woman means that I know woman.

My role as a wife – the state in which I exist due interactions with my physical self (for survival and reproductive purposes), where I am being perceived as being a wife (at a bar, at a family gathering) the social expectations that are assumed when one chooses to be a wife, and that mysterious element of love and bonding.

Get it?  The list (for me) can go on and on… I am a mother, I am a student, I am an employee, I am a writer, I am a theorist, I am a realist, I am an advocate, I am a moderate, I am a radical… Social roles don’t really exist on thier own, as isolated fragmentations of the self, they work with one another towards a unity of me.

Sometimes, though, my roles are not harmonious and balanced.  Sometimes, I have to interact with physical, social and internal roles that conflict with one another.  This has been called Role Strain, and it occurs when demands of two roles need different things, but they are occuring in the same context.  For example, working mothers are often known for suffering from role strain, where their “duties” of the mother role and their “duties” of work often conflict and cause stress for the self.

But role strain can only exist when we, as individuals, are susceptible to being ruled by external forces.  Because if we do, in fact, have pure free will, it is the self that should be negotiating the duties of the role.

But I digress.

Different from role strain, but connected to it all the same is the problem of Role Confusion.  Role confusion is where an individual is put in a situation where they are uncertain of which role they are supposed to play when the possibility of many roles is present.

The Internet, as I see it, can work to minimize the stress of role strain as more and more people use the virtual to negotiate thier identity, as a personally defined set of roles and duties, rather than the externally defined set that comes as a result of social institutions.  I think that it also could work to minimize role confusion, as users can streamline interactions within managed online settings.  This, though, unfortunately works better with detatchment from those real-life things that can cause strain and confusion in the “real-world.”

And now I’m going to rant a bit about Facebook and how all of this relates to why I am deleting my Facebook profile.

While when I first started using Facebook, I was taken in by it.  I loved the idea of having an online venue to “play” with my real-life friends.  Since I was so active on MySpace, I thought I would love it.  But then I started adding (and inviting) people into that “play” area of my life where I exist as another role.  While I wasn’t feeling so much role strain… I was experiencing a lot of role confusion.  And even though there are no personal specific examples I can put my finger on to illustrate what I mean, the role confusion was causing me great anxiety.

I know that this is not a unique experience for me.  I’ve heard of teachers who are one Facebook to “play” have parents of their students send them friend requests… I’ve heard of old friends coming back into lives and messing up stability in relationships… I’ve heard of people being denied jobs and opportunities because of photos and notes and wall-writings.

I may return to Facebook, under a pseudonym, and only add those people that I have a contextual, and real-life social “play” connection to, because ultimately, I think that a social networking site like Facebook is a great idea, and believe that virtual communities can enhance real-life ones… but in the end, I have to agree with my husband Dave, that the coming together of all of these individual communities that I have belonged to in the past and present, is wierd, and unnatural for the current social conditions that we live in today.


3 thoughts on “The Internet and Identity Fragmentation

  1. Hi! This is really interesting. It’s nice to know there are others who get that awkward feeling on facebook… I’ve deleted my page before, also. But here’s what I think the issue is: It’s *your* facebook page. That awkward feeling is only exposing an *internal* problem, I think. I have friends who behave exactly the same way around their parents and their friends. I think that is healthy. What’s unhealthy is developing “identity fragments” early in life, and developing a habit of bending (or “muting” would probably be a better word) your behavior to fit other people’s expectations. I’m still in the process of figuring all this out… I’m not a psychologist and certainly don’t have my sh*t together, yet, anyway… but my goal is to stop “playing roles,” tidy up the fragments, and start standing up for myself… from fearful to fearless. 🙂

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