Are our identities shaped by social networking?

What are we showing of our real selves online? How are we influenced to show certain parts of ourselves? Are we swayed by our desires for presenting ourselves favourably, currying favour, trying to get our needs and insecurities met through the acknowledgement and approval of others? What is the implication of this for young people who are forming their identities in the crucial teenage years?

Being infiltrated with the so-called inner thoughts of others through mediums such as Facebook, we build up a picture of the world that is distorted by people only presenting certain parts of themselves. It is surely only in real encounters with the other that we learn about ourselves. Or can we learn these things through social media? Many people believe that social media does not allow any real connection of worth with others. For young people, if this is true it could have a worrying impact on their social and emotional development.

As a therapist working with young people, I find that their online life cannot be ignored in therapy. It is a fundamental part of their social lives and the identity that they are forming as they approach adulthood. Whilst this world is confusing and overwhelming for some older people, for young people there may be opportunities for growth and exchanging ideas that they would not otherwise have access to.

As an adult using social networking I find there is in fact space to connect to the unconscious collective of humanity. Following a blog by someone on the other side of the ocean in New York who photographs people and shares their human story, is very stimulating for someone like me who thrives on human connection and understanding other people’s stories. So even though I'm not meeting these people, their story, written and carried out thousands of miles away touches my life, changes me and shapes my view of the world. All of this just through my smart-phone? Maybe technology, like many human creations, is shaped by our complexities and has both a light and dark side.

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