Saturday, November 24, 2007

Forming Identity

If you've read any of my previous blogposts or forum posts lately, you know that I've been on a mad mission to explore whether there are negative effects for children who are developing their sense of identity at the same time as manufacturing multiple identities online. Today, I found the definitive source...written four years ago, would you believe? In a book of journal articles titled Children in the Digital Age edited by Calvert, Jordan and Cocking, I found an essay by Sandra L. Calvert. In the essay, she explores "Identity Construction on the Internet." I'm excited because she basically asks the exact same questions I have been asking myself and provides some interesting insights. Just as with most things in life, the answer is not simple. It all depends on what developmental psychologist you follow!

1. Erikson would likely say that as children are forming their "single unitary identity," they are merely using the Internet as a place in which to experiment, to try on various identities before settling on one.

2. Jung believed in a single identity (personae) as well, but he integrated these "archetypal images" into his theory--the mother, child, healer, king, witch, healer, etc. The Internet, again, provides a sort of playground on which children can take on the mantle of various archetypes before integrating one or many of them.

3. Social (Symbolic) Interactionists like Mead would say that none of us have a single identity, but that we shuffle various identities as we shift into different environments and social situations. Thus, the Internet is simply an extension of that exploration and construction of those parts of self.

Hallelujah! So the answer seems fairly clear, that the nefarious nature I thought might be intrinsic is not actually there. EXCEPT (and there's always an except isn't there?) that they are exploring and trying on all these identities in a public sphere, one that is timeless and placeless. In 5 or 10 years, a copy of that Web page will still be around on "The Way Back Machine". It's like a high school yearbook with all our worst school photos (identities) ONLINE for all to see for the rest of time.

Added to that embarrassment is the potential danger involved in exploring archetypes or identities that may bring personal safety into question. The real issue is how MUCH information children are putting out there about themselves, not what kind, it seems. Finally, there is the possibility that a child may be confronted with images and behavior he or she is not developmentally ready to process. But, I guess that's a different topic altogether.


Anonymous said...

I don't know what way I choose to look at this situation. If you take a look at all of the suggestions about forming identities then there really is no correct answer it seems. If children are using the internet however to try to explore their identities, then I agree that it is a concern about not the information that they put out, but how much they do. Sure, like you said it would be like a yearbook, when they look back on it, but if that is what helped them then I don't see that as a problem. I found what you had to say very interesting!


Alecia Berman-Dry said...

Thanks, Jenna!