Following Alec’s excellent lecture on ‘Rethinking Teaching & Learning in a Networked Reality’ (follow link to accompanied slideshow), I couldn’t stop thinking about how important marketing and cultivating an identity has become. I have long thought about how identity is formed and on its superficiality, and this gave me the opportunity to ramble on the subject:
Most likely like everyone else in their adolescent years, simply being yourself wasn’t enough, so in an effort to define yourself, you take from your environment, picking and choosing what you feel best defines who you want to be, not necessarily who you really are. I remember the need to stand out as an individual, so in Grade 8 I wore bell bottoms and a dashiki top to school, mainly because I wanted to identify with Jimi Hendrix. Needless to say things didn’t work out so well, and I went back to the drawing board, returning with a new look in Grade 10: Industrial Goth, fashioned after NIN and Smashing Pumpkins. I wore vinyl pants, painted my nails black, wore high combat boots, and tried to wear black as much as I could. Somehow this look was accepted more readily by the student body at Campbell Collegiate, and I was spared much of the ridicule the bell bottoms received. In fact, many people respected me because I was brave enough to wear what I wanted.
Some time later, in grade 11 my sister’s friend gave me a mix-tape of Britpop (Blur, Oasis, Pulp, Supergrass, Verve, etc.), and suddenly I found something that I felt I identified with more. NIN was a little too self-loathing for me by that point, and besides, girls didn’t really go for the goth guy back then (Although you can only imagine how popular I would be had the vampire craze that is currently obsessing our culture been 10 years ago!).
Of course over time as my world became larger and larger (through travel and of course the net), I refined my identity until several years ago when I thought to myself ‘how far does this have to go? How much of one’s identity is from their environment, and does one’s tastes necessairly define who they are as individuals?’
It seems to me in our society, what commodities we choose to define ourselves by is supposed to say a great deal about who we are as individuals. But does it really? Is it the new mating ritual, or simply a narcissistic act? Are we cheating ourselves in thinking that emulating popular/unpopular trends which place us in a sub-genre provides us with an identity we can truly say is our own?
At this point you may be thinking ‘I don’t subscribe to a set sub-genre,’ but I implore you to think for a moment about what you identify with. Chances are you exist in a well established sub-genre with it’s own checklist of do’s and don’ts, likes and dislikes.
I would have to say that these sub-genres of identity weren’t so cut and paste even 3 years ago. In 2005 when I first arrived in Japan being impressed to find that there was a magazine for whatever identity sub-genre you fit in, whether it be athletic, goth, indie, punk, outdoorsman, clubber, academic, etc. If you were a motorcyclist who also loved fly-fishing and the stock market, there was a magazine for you. seriously. In these magazines were clearly laid out ideas for fashion, tastes in all sorts of commodities and activities; basically what to do/ not do to fit this style.
It showed me how sophisticated the understanding and marketing to sub-genres had become in Japan. So should I like the outdoors (genre), I can find a variety of well established sub-genres that will be specific to my tastes, and more importantly give me ideas on how to further refine my tastes through suggestions on clothing, music, travel, etc. Even social codes are made explicit through interviews with individuals that already follow such sub-genres.
The Japanese made creating an identity through personal tastes into an objective task, one that really seems to remove the individual from the cultivated identity.
We are doing the same by our cultivation of a public identity on the net through social-networks. We have become reliant on tastes to define who we are, and make split second judgmental decisions on others based on their profile pic, ‘about me’ blurb, and the long list of likes and dislikes they choose to identify themselves by on their Facebook profile. And as web use grows, so too does the importance of this identity.
So, having spent most of my life creating and refining this ‘identity’ of mine (fits nicely within sub-genre of ‘hipster/environmentalist’), and really getting to the age where I feel less concerned with how people see me, I am now confronted with having to re-examine my public identity (I use public because really that’s what it’s become, a fracture between public and private) and placing it within the easily accessible guidelines given to me by social-networks, and market myself to ensure my image is one that remains consistent with what I see as important to myself.
This has become a bit of a rant so I will rein myself in by summarizing that nowdays, if ever, the idea of a public identity has become much more important in our social lives because social-networks such as facebook have made it easier than ever to scrutinize not who we are as people, but how we define ourselves by our tastes and interests. Instead of spending time getting to know someone over a period of time, with a click of a mouse we can dismiss someone as not being worth knowing for strictly superficial reasons. So in order to make more ‘friends,’ add more followers, etc. we need to be much more mature in how we market ourselves (look at this article on how to make the most agreeable profile pic if you don’t believe me) than ever before.
I am not sure how beneficial this trend is going to be in the long run. Sure it gives you much more reflection into what kind of person you’d like people to see you as, but in the long run is it really helping you get to know who you really are as an individual?
This is by no means a complete observation, and I would welcome any comments you have, as I feel I have gotten to the point where, without dialogue, I will just be rambling on and on.