December 5, 2016

The Digital Self: Why do we express ourselves on Social Media like we do?

The Development of the Digital Self

The idea of the digital self developed from the original phenomenon of the ‘extended self’, pioneered by Russell Belk in 1988. He believed our possessions are a major contributor to and reflection of our identities. Back in the day, it was external objects, such as clothes, jewellery and cars etc. that he believed we used and considered as part of ourselves. Think about it, could you live without your smartphone or laptop? (Be honest…)

Nowadays however, it isn’t merely tangible belongings that researchers consider as part of our extended self. Our digital possessions such as photos, videos, statuses, texts, and emails are now seen to be significantly important to shaping our digital self.

Why do we have a Digital Self?

The idea of the Digital Self is an interesting and relatively new topic discussed in consumer behaviour research. Researchers, such as Stone (1996) and Hemetsburger (2005) claim that the digital web allows us to try out different personas that differ from our real life identities. But why would we want to even do this? We were especially interested in looking at why we express ourselves online the way we do and we wanted to share the most common reasons:

- We want to meet the expectation of others: research shows over 50% of women would edit their social media photos to look better and meet the expectations that the media and magazines have set

- We want to boost our self-esteem: people upload photos and statuses online that they feel will receive ‘likes’ and positive feedback in which ultimately helps their egos

- To feel a sense of belonging: Some of us want to fit in with the crowd and upload things that are ‘down with the trend’ - for instance, who notices the amount of people posting pictures of their food increasing? It didn’t come from nowhere.

- Bigger sense of freedom: Unlike real life, digital platforms allow us to express ourselves in any way we want to without anyone there to physically judge us

- Striving to be our ideal selves: Digital Apps, such as Facetune, that allow us to improve our appearances on photos (through teeth whitening, skin smoothing and body shape editing) helps consumers to express as their ‘ideal’ self online and inevitably feel better about themselves

In conclusion, the digital world has provided us with greater opportunities to express our identity in any form we want to. But what we all need to remember is: how will we feel if we go so far to express ourselves differently online that we forget what reality is, or worse, we end up resenting it?

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