03 March 2012

Journal #2 - How do we define who we are, and shape or reaffirm our identity using social networks?

After reading the material, I began to realize exactly how much we confuse children - teenagers, especially. Dannah boyd really spells it out with several contradictions that we set up for teenagers. For example, we "sell sex to teens but prohibit them from having it; we tell teens to grow up but restrict them from the vices and freedoms of adult society." She's right, this is hypocrisy! It's no wonder that teenagers are so confused! I begin to understand the importance of them having their own "space" to figure out who they are. They need social interactions to figure out the cultural importances, rules, morals, faux pas, and so on that they are expected to not only understand, but to manipulate without fail. For this reason, teenagers set up profiles online to help them express themselves and understand the world they live in. By viewing others profiles, they can compare the similarities and differences. Soon a culture exists - one that is truly theirs. And then a cultural norm exists, where things are socially excepted or rejected, making it an organic, evolving thing. This allows them to experiment and evolve as individuals. They can try out different perspectives. They can be whoever they want to be. And if they try out a false identity, they often can't keep it up because their peers soon detect it. But that's ok, because they find who they are not. For example, as stated in the reading, a boy pretending to be a girl couldn't keep the conversation going along without being caught. This reaffirms to the boy that he is indeed male. This suggests that the more social interactions online that teen encounters, will actually help the teen understand their true identity. The acceptance or rejection of behaviors (a.k.a. being "cool" or being a “dork”) helps develop a cultural norm that teaches teens to live with society - maybe not accept everything, but at least learn to live within it. So, online identities help these teens understand their limitations...well, at the very least complain to sympathetic listeners, who understand completely since they are teens too. This interaction helps confirm who the individual really is.

Also, in an online environment, teens can discuss topics that may not be socially acceptable in face-to-face conversations. Race is a good example. In AsianAvenue, BlackPlanet, or MiGente, they can discuss racial issues with some degree anonymity. Some of the racial slang or issues (maybe even questions about races) may not be socially acceptable as a conversation in a school yard or classroom. But here, online, these teens can talk openly and freely discuss sensitive issues like race without worry. In a sense, it also helps reaffirm their identity, because they are finding out what it means to be Black or Hispanic or Asian or whatever race. Therefore, discussing races or problems or issues in this manner gives teens the views and opinions of others of the same race. The norms of this culture are different, based upon the race, and what is “cool” in a race-oriented website may be very different from a teen-oriented website. The individual can contrast and hopefully resolve the two opposing viewpoints within their own thoughts and opinions, consequently reaffirming the individual’s identity.

In conclusion, I have to agree that social networking sites helps teens find the answers to the confusion that society places upon them. By interacting with other teens, with peers within their own race or culture, helps the individual to understand his or her own ideas and thoughts. By seeing the constraints placed by their peers about accepted and rejected ideas and behaviors, the individual can modify their own thoughts and behaviors to live within that society. Exploring, trial and error, and lurking are all great ways that individuals can discover their true identity on social networking sites. And the small degree of anonymity provided by the Internet makes this form of discovery more accessible than facing your peers in a ‘real-life’ situation.

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