Questioning about how we, Millennials, are shaped by the daily interaction of our on- and offline realities, I dived into the fascinating last part of the literature trilogy of Professor Turkle, realizing my generation has became civilised as never before.
In general, technology might been regarded as a servant to human beings. As Turkle in her book Alone Together (2011) analyses: ‘Technology ties us up as it promises to free us up. Connectivity technologies once promised to give us more time. But as the smart phone eroded the boundaries between work and leisure, all the time in the world was not enough.’
Ironically, these devices have become so intertwined in our daily lives so that they have eroded slowly the boundaries between our on- and offline identity. By ringing, flashing or bleeping, they now demand our attention by replacing our daily services by mobile applications. Social activities are shifting towards our little mobile screen. ‘Digital connections may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship’ as Turkle defines perfectly.
Technology gives us the sense of control. Turkle illustrates: ‘We can edit our messages until they project the self we want to be’. Some even argue that all these online communities create space for playing with our identities. Nowadays, if you want to be a dog, just be a dog. The digital age gives the freedom to experiment with our identity, find the deeper layers in our selves and develop our self-knowledge.
But is that really the case? I would like to describe three developments which have changed our daily behaviour and made us socially connected as never before.
- Let’s begin with examining the first tendency: the need to review. As online companies are acutely aware of the value of our ‘social capital’, they urge us to reveal as much of our (online) identity. And they push us to reveal ourselves as authentically as possible. Ideally, our online masters strive for one single identity and in synchrony with our real-life ones. In order to achieve this, we are asked to review each other. During the course of a day we are getting marks for our behaviour whether they are likes on Facebook, LinkedIn endorsements or Uber marks. Not only do I have to be a good employee, I also have to be a good (Air)B&B guest, a (uber) good passenger and moreover, a good friend. In addition, these marks are indelible. Although our gentle human brain forgets sometimes misbehaviour, our online database does not. It is best to just act within the standards.
- My second concept is to examine the tendency of keeping things short. Through communication we are able to express ourselves. And so we do. Nowadays we are able to communicate via multiple devices in each other’s vicinity and simultaneously. As money is time and time is money, we are tending to keep it short. And in most cases we prefer to ‘send’ messages rather than wait for a long well informed and considered discussion. As Twitter instructs us ‘please restrict yourself to 140 characters maximum’. We like to give our opinions in short statements and quotes. Lately, indirect communication forms have become the preferred mode. Posting pictures, videos or reposts are considered safer options as people most likely identify you with the posted item. Still, it is their re-interpretation.
- Lastly, self -branding has fully been accepted socially. And as every marketeer knows, a strong brand is created by repeating the message in a consistent way. To be perceived as trustworthy and to meet with the expectations of your public, you need to be consistent in your verbal expression, both on and offline. And as your public self expands by entering the digital universe, we’re getting more conscious about the effect of a strong ‘this-is-me-brand’. No identity play here but you are faced with a tough audience to please. A brand expert would suggest ‘just be yourself so you’re easy to get’. Soon you will become a stereotype of yourself; being the hipster who lives in Shoreditch and works at Vice, transports herself with a fixie, with a skinny soya-latte-in her right hand.
As a result of these tendencies, it seems that we are slowly and perhaps unintentionally adjusting our daily behaviour in line with our digital (social) devices.
We have to be connected, transparent, consistent and measurable to make our online tools work properly. Afraid of bad reviews, a weak online identity or unpopularity which may affect our offline ‘real’ self, we’re becoming a socially connected generation; flawless, decent and perfectly boring.