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Degrees of Separation: Digital versus Physical Identities

Updated on August 23, 2016
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While I have only been formally studying psychology and working in research for the last 3 to 4 years, It is one of my favorite topics.

Who are you...really?

We have come to a new version of society which seems to be split into to fully functioning halves of communication. One is the standard visible form consisting of sharing time with one another or interacting with our physical environment. The other consists of our habitual and almost ritualistic use of social media and video entertainment. Being a broke college student, I have very little time to socialize outside of school and work, but I hear that it is fantastic. Like many I proscribe more to the secondary form of communication which is rapidly becoming our primary. Electronic or digital socializing has made quite an impact in western society. Such an impact that we are having difficulty in measuring the behavioral effects of the digital society that we have created.

As many gestalt psychologists would agree, we are constantly influenced by our surroundings. How we perceive and interpret our surroundings influences how we exist within them. Our identities are shaped by our own perceptions of these influences. How we socialize, what we read, what we do throughout our days all have a profound impact on who we are as individuals. While this is a pretty simple concept to grasp, the purpose for my referencing it here has to do with my overall question. Where do the strongest influences of our identities come from today? If the answer for the vast majority of western culture is through digital media and communication, then does this pose a threat to our physical identities?

Posted identities

In today's digital world, we shape profiles and post comments about what we think and seek to represent who we are in two hundred characters or less. Whether or not we represent ourselves accurately is a topic for another post. For the purpose of this article, I am hoping that people will begin to notice the difference in themselves and in others as digital identities increase. If our digital identities continue to be our main form of self representation used in social interaction, how soon will we begin to lack in our ability to physically communicate with one another? While research is still being done to answer this question, there are some studies that would support that our increased use of social media and technology has lead to some negative outcomes such as increased depression and anxiety among youth.

If we look at our facebook as more than a profile and our gaming avatars as more than cartoons, we can begin to see that such forms of digital identity create separation. A chasm slowly opens between our physical identity (who we are as we walk down the street and shake hands with acquaintances) versus who we fashion ourselves to be on what ever site or game we happen to be dedicating our time to in the moment. The more time we spend the stronger the connection is to our digital identities over our physical ones which could have lasting negative social effects. Granted, the emerging forms of modern interaction and communication are still relatively new making it difficult to base any theories on any positive or negative conclusions due to limited data on behavioral change through out the years. It is because we have to not been closely observing this division in identity that it is difficult for us to draw a correlation to any particular influences.

Social issue or social evolution?

Apart from sharing my theories with those willing to listen, I also enjoy discussing alternate theories as well. Perhaps this is not a gain one at the loss of another type of situation. Maybe this is instead a natural progression toward the communication of tomorrow. Physical contact is indeed dwindling in western societies, however this dwindling maybe a glimpse into our natural progression in to more advanced forms of socializing which would mean that our behaviors would naturally evolve with them. If this is the case than we would have to accept that natural human progression will lead to a point of being in which we have almost completely disconnected ourselves from the world around us. While this may be evolution at work, is it the type of evolution that we want?

Thank you for reading and please answer the poll on the bottom of the page. You answers and comments contribute toward understanding these questions!

Stay curious...

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How many hours do you spend communicating through a digital device each day?

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