How Does Technology Affect Social Identity?

Technological progress has resulted in a dramatic change in how people shape social identities in the modern world. There are a variety of television shows, social media networks, blogs, and other internet media that provide facts and photographs that affect people’s attitudes and beliefs these days. Reality shows, movies, dramas, and films on television networks, for example, have a large following of young people, as have other types of digital media. These materials also increased the amount of information and awareness accessed by the general public. Technology affects social identity by creating unrealistic ideas of what people should look like; influencing people’s emotions and feelings through social networking; and disabling the beauty of diversity by portraying ideal types of ‘perfect’ looks.

Technology influences social identity by creating unrealistic ideas of what people should look like. According to Hanes (512), new technology has created an excitement, commitment, and reorientation of women’s expectations towards a popular culture of viewing beauty as a concept of sexuality. The feminine attitude of the civil rights era has now shifted to a sexy mystique in which sexy women with slender waists and exposed bodies are considered as perfect examples for feminism. Hanes suggests that girls nowadays believe that perfect and accomplished women are characterized by their hot sexual bodies. Television stations portray women as people who should always look hot, regardless of their roles in society. Doctors, politicians and lawyers must always be seen in the context of sexiness rather than their achievements at work. Young girls also imitate the images of sexy girls portrayed in the Disney programs. The Disney princesses give ideas illusory ideas of beauty. According to Dokko et al (712), psychological attachment help people to form social identities around them, influencing how they think, act, feel or look. In this regard, social media models create psychological attachment whereby the audience would like to behave or look like the people they see in the various forms of new media, social media, and the mass media. Furthermore, mainstream media portrays unrealistic and sexualized bodies. According to Seeta and Schryver (14), body image as used in the media may affect the physical and emotional wellbeing of young people. When people look at what they see in the media and compare them with their actual looks, they develop what Seeta and Schryver call ‘body dissatisfaction’, leading to mental health problems such as low-self-esteem, eating disorders, and depression. Hanes (512 also suggests that sexualization of women may reduce cognitive performance and increase body dissatisfaction. This negative impact of technology on social identity may develop from childhood and worsen as the child grows, leading to poor adolescent development and further psychological problems in adulthood. Therefore, technology creates unrealistic ideas about what people should look like, and may lead to mental and psychological problems if the ‘perfect look’ depicted in the media is not achieved.

Social networking also affects social identity by providing mechanisms through which people interact and develop new behaviours and ideas. Through the social media, people experience various forms of cyberbullying including exposure to child pornography, causing the victims to lose their self-esteem and possibly become depressed. Nonetheless, the social media is a platform in which people form social identities, which are sometimes stressing. For example, famous people post altered images on Instagram, tricking viewers to believe that they look ‘perfect’. As a result, social media users may become stressed for not attaining such unattainable standards of beauty, sexiness, and perfection. I have experienced this feeling on several occasions. Whenever I see girls engaged in fit girls posting their images on the social media I feel ashamed for not working on my looks as good as they do. Sometimes I feel as if the people who look fit in the media are more successful than me in fitness efforts and exercise. However, Subrahmanyam and Smahel (62) people develop sophisticated conceptualization of the self and persona, which reflect their fantasies, visions, thoughts and ideas about their virtual experiences in the social media. In this regard, the content that people post in the social media may not necessarily depict their real image. Some people may post some aspects of their lives that they wish to expose, and avoid the elements that they do not want others to know about. Other people also post the aspects that they want to eschew or experiment, including more sexy bodies, nicknames, images, and interesting ideas. Such social identity constructions may affect people’s emotional and psychological wellbeing. Some people may post fake pictures in the social media to show what they aspire to look like. Others express various ideas and thoughts that create good impressions; for example, posting statues and captions to express one’s feelings in the social media leads to the creation of an online and social identity among members of a social media group or users. This notion of identity is common in adolescence when individuals have to create an ego identity that represents their skills, talents, experience, attitudes, wishes, values, sexual orientations, and roles. The social media offers them an alternative platform to express such identities through posting photos and videos, nicknames, and messages that reflect their identities.

The new media technology also offers affects people’s attitudes about beauty, leading to a negative view on the idea of diversity. Most social networking media and technology create an image and idea that perfect women and girls should be thin, gorgeous and youthful face, and curvy figures. Television programs, films, and advertisements also use images of sexy women to demonstrate the idea of beauty. As a result, media audience develop social identities around the idea of beauty as demonstrated through media technology. Worsham (2011) suggests that the media affects people’s understanding of social reality. In this regard, people develop illusionary ideas of beauty when they look at the sexy women projected in their TV and computer screens. This idea is relevant to the concept of social construction. According to Subrahmanyam and Smahel (216), the internet technology offers young people an important platform to construct their social realities in the online environment. Subrahmanyam and Smahel (216) suggests that the online and offline worlds of teenagers are psychologically connected such that it is possible to know one’s social reality from online engagements. Therefore, young people tend to borrow what they get in the social media, and express their true feelings through the social media as well. As suggested by Hanes, people copy the online behaviors of celebrities and apply them in their practical social lives. This process shows a process in which people appropriate online culture to influence their actions and behaviors. The appropriated behaviors distort the social reality and beauty of diversity. For example, some people may use chemical substances to bleach their bodies, or carry out surgeries to improve their bodies to look like those of their media celebrities. The youth also change their dressing styles and adopt new fashions to imitate what they see in the media. In this regard, media technology plays a significant role in distorting people’s ideas and perspectives of beauty.

In conclusion, children and adolescents face a big risk of exposure to sexual content and other behaviour-changing content and ideas. Young people are naturally characterized by tendencies of creating self-identity around their experiences, skills and beliefs. In the modern world, the digital media and technology form the child’s social environment, feeding them with new information and ideas which are sometimes illusionary and distorted. To prevent them from constructive a new social reality based on such illusions and fantasies of technology, parents and other caregivers should reduce their children’s access to technology. Parents may control the programs that their children and teenagers watch in the television. People should also develop self-awareness of real versus false forms of beauty in the social media. It is necessary to create awareness about the use of Photoshop by famous celebrities to improve their looks. People should also be proud of their looks, and avoid imitating others because everyone is unique in their own ways; and everyone should love and appreciate his or her looks, considering beauty as a form of promoting diversity rather than seeking perfection through the media. Nonetheless, people should reduce the time spent online and engage in physical social activities to promote their self-esteem and create social identity around real life experiences.

Works Cited

Dokko, Gina, A.A. Kane, and M. Tortoriello. “One of Us or One of My Friends: How Social Identity and Tie Strength Shape the Creative Generativity of Boundary-Spanning Ties.” Organization Studies. 35.5 (2014): 703-726. Print.

Hanes, Stephanie. “Little Girls or Little Women? The Disney Princess Effect” Everything’s an Argument with Readings, 7th ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016, pp. 509–515.

Pai, Seeta, and Kelly Schryver. “Children, Teens, Media, and Body Image.” Common Sense Media, Common Sense Media Research Brief, 21 Jan. 2015.

Subrahmanyam, Kaveri, and David Smahel. Digital Youth: the Role of Media in Development. New York: Springer, 2011.

Worsham, Sabrina Lea. “Media’s Influence on Social Norms and Identity Development of Youth.” Applied Social Psychology, Nov. 28, 2011. http://www.personal.psu.edu/bfr3/blogs/applied_social_psychology/2011/11/medias-influence-on-social-norms-and-identity-development-of-youth.html. Accessed 27 Nov 2017.

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