Following the intense and abrupt digitalization occurring in the democratic society, the world welcomed a new up-and-coming species of youths: the digital generation. It has an unprecedented crave for technology and uses it as a ‘liberation tool’, a way of expressing itself. Its tendency of “overusing” these technologies instantly sparked interest among media scholars asking themselves: who are they?
And they proceed to learn. As mentioned in David Buckingham’s article Introducing Identity, Marc Prensky calls them the ‘digital natives’, the youth ‘who grown up with technology’, and whose one-click-away-euphoria made of interactivity and instant connectivity the supreme goals. In his theory of contrasts and oppositions between the old and the new generation, Don Tapscott adds the youths are very proactive. They refuse to settle down for whatever is displayed on the TV screens and but demand more. Thus, they resort to the digital realm containing various platforms full of blank spaces and infinite possibilities to express themselves, to grow themselves, to filter the world, or simply socialise. But again, who are they?
As the theorists pointed out, when the baby boomers were laying down on the sofa simply watching and ingesting, the net generation was furiously typing and “contributing”. The question is: where? The answer lies in the Ofcom’s Media Use and Attitudes 2015 report revealing that youths spend up to 27.6 hours online and their favourite activity is, surprise, communication. In most of the cases, online communication implies building up a profile. Usually, this contains voluntarily uploaded personal information, and unconsciously leaked indicators of identity emerging from that person’s online activity (comments, likes).
As the construction of this identity occurs in a democratic society, it becomes a process of individual selection – a person chooses what information is published and how it is presented. By seeking to impress, the online users abuse of this freedom and mutilated their authentic self. Using their raw self as a foundation, they build the best version of themselves and uploaded it online. This ideal self is fragile and exists only online. Every photo and bit of text should confirm this identity and show different angles of it. This superficiality is further encouraged by the media.
It is known media are commercial and heavily promotes anything from brands to fashion trends or ideologies. The products or trends are introduced as something “everybody already has / does” and you should join them. Masses of people are deceived into thinking that unless they join in, they cannot fit in or be “cool”. Take as an example the way media repeatedly portrayed Starbucks as the best coffee company in the world. Instagram was flooded with photos of people holding Starbucks cups. It is safe to assume not everyone involved in the trend was a Starbucks lover. There were few who beyond the uploaded picture, were Costa Coffee fans.
In most of the cases, if not in every, joining a trend appears as a need of affiliation and social validation. By participating, people are trying to prove themselves as fascinating human beings, and in this process, their online identities are altered. Unless people become more pretentious about their media intake, their identities are never going to belong to them.