Identity in the 21st century


Devon Butler

Like many other members of my generation, I am suffering from an identity crisis.

This “crisis” can be attributed to the various external outlets which tell me who I am or who I should be.

Surely this type of personal uncertainty is not a new development in human nature. For century’s, people, particularly females, were given the narrow identification of daughter, mother or wife. In an equally limiting sense, males were labelled based primarily upon their lineage.

Though humanity has struggled through each century to find their place and personal “identity” (which I put in quotations to showcase its ambiguity) there is something about today’s pop culture which has amplified the seriousness in lacking a sound identity.

Growing up in the 1990s I was on the very brink of the technology wave. I learned early on through sources such as MSN Messenger and the craze of chat rooms that it’s easy to misinterpret others; similarly it’s important to be aware of how others may interpret you.

While still a child I realized I could be whoever I wanted to be. It was all too easy to put on a new mask every day. This is a normal and accepted practice for both pre-teens and teenagers, to try on various personalities and identities.

This form of “soul searching” is not just accepted, but encouraged.
Facades are becoming the norm and with the assistance of modern technology, hiding behind a false sense of self has never been easier.

With over 350 million users worldwide, Facebook has become our primary form of communication. Likewise, it’s become the way which we communicate ourselves to the world.

70 % of Facebook users are outside of the U.S.

2.5 billion photos are uploaded each month

700,000 local business have Facebook pages

130 the average number of friends of each
account holder

I, like many others have been faced with the daunting box and the ever menacing “About me” section. In some ways, these mysterious forms of communication are a chance to re-invent ourselves.

Interestingly enough, in filling out social networking profiles, I wasn’t asking the question “What are my interests?” But rather, what do I want others to think my interests are? This is precisely why there are 350 million users. Facebook offers an outlet to control what people can know about you.

At what point however, do we allow it to dictate our sense of personal identity?

To be conditioned into thinking you are only as popular as your number of friends or that you are only as beautiful as the number of photo comments you receive.

These limiting categorizations are what have been instilled in us since infancy; the vital importance of broadcasting ourselves to the world in hopes of finding definition through others. We only find comfort in an identity that has been pre-approved by society.

A professor of Oxford University and neuroscientist Susan Greenfield has recently conducted a survey on the future of this generation.

She concluded that the human brain is easy to manipulate, and is especially susceptible to 21st century technologies.

But it’s not really the technologies she’s worried about, rather the social changes they are causing.

Her ultimate fear is that they may alter our sense of identity to the point that we may no longer have the capacity to be fully developed persons.

Every previous generation has had to maneuver their way through life within different spheres, all which each require different masks.

And we face the same issues, but only magnified. As such it’s our task to strip ourselves from our online personas as they act as a mask which limits us.

Ben Sandiford

With recent trends in globalization and communication technology the far corners of the planet are moving closer and closer together. 

Lands that once only existed in myth can now be experienced via documentary films and the Internet.

As the world continues to congregate closer together, the sheer size and complexity of it is becoming more and more apparent.

Languages, cultures and peoples that have existed for centuries are in danger of becoming obscure due to the sheer weight of major players, such as China and America.

If most languages and cultures are slowly being consigned to the dust bin of history, than as an individual, what chance does one have to survive in the emerging global society?

We are afraid of being lost in this new globalized world, and as a result there is a widespread move towards adopting a group identity in an attempt to maintain one’s individualism and relevance.

This can be seen both at the national and international levels.

Within Canada people are increasingly attempting to define themselves through sub-cultures.

Dozens of new sub-cultures have become prominent in recent years, with labels such as hipster or emo-kid. In addition to this many larger sub-cultures like “rock” have undergone dozens of divisions into smaller sub-cultures within subcultures.

This is an attempt for the individual to try and maintain some sort of identity within a rapidly expanding world, even if it means conforming to the standards of a group. Many of these sub-cultures, such as “Goths”, emphasize being an individual even though they are all about conformity. Despite this seeming contradiction, in a global context many find that a group identity does give them a sense of individuality.

This search for a group identity within a broader world has other more far reaching effects, namely the rise of nationalism and ethnic identification.

Growing up in Canada, I remember there being a great de-emphasis on ethnic identity and a focus on us all being citizens of the world; ethnicity was somewhat irrelevant.

Now in university I notice dozens of ethnic based student organizations and a near constant flow of ethnic or other identity-based weeks, months and days.

This illustrates that we, as individuals, have tried to open ourselves up to the vastness of the world and what we saw scared us; now that fear is leading us to seek a group identity based on ethnic identification. This emphasis on ethnic identity extends far beyond Canada and is manifesting itself in nationalist movements around the world.

For instance, the BNP, a British anti-immigration political party, gained seats for the first time, in part due to promises of protecting the British culture.

Across the wider world, leaders like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran, have managed to form large support bases using similar nationalist rhetoric speaking to their people’s group identity.

As the world continues to become more and more integrated paradoxically larger yet closer together, the individual will continue to be feel pressured and persecuted by a world that just doesn’t seem to have room for them.

Until we as humans can accept this reality and can create a new way of looking at ourselves, then it appears at least for now, that people will continue to seek out and connect to group identities as a way to find a place in a globalized world.

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