Generation Z’s search for identity in the world of social media

Updated: June 15, 2021 1:56 PM

Every stage of technological advancement across human history has impacted the generation of users, but the graph of recent advancements has been a steep one.

generration zGeneration Z seems to be using social media as a medium of communicating one’s identity.

By Sairaj Patki,

Generation Z or Digital Natives, refers to those individuals born after 1995, who were surrounded by the Internet and ITC technology (Dunas & Vartanov, 2020). This generational cohort is usually known to be perpetually connected to the Internet. Every stage of technological advancement across human history has impacted the generation of users, but the graph of recent advancements has been a steep one. We thus have the unique opportunity of observing the intergenerational patterns of human-technology interaction as they unfold before us in the same decade. With social gatherings and face-to-face interactions being significantly curtailed during the pandemic, dependence on social media can be expected to have increased several fold. This article explores how social media has emerged as a platform for young minds to explore their identities and isn’t restricted to mere social networking anymore.

Generation Z’s drive to have a unique identity

A special characteristic of generation-specific human-technology interaction is related to the purpose of the usage of social media. Generation Z seems to be using social media as a medium of communicating one’s identity. A comparison of social media usage across the generation of users demonstrated that members of Generation Z were more likely to create their own individualized identities on social media platforms (Fietkiewicz et al., 2016) and also showed a keen interest and passion towards digital content creation (Hernandez-de-Menendez et al., 2020). The digital natives come across as active controllers of their lives, increasingly seeking creative mediums and inclining towards creating and sharing content as a means of self-expression. They are individuals who do not wish to be restrained by the existing harsh social structures (Fietkiewicz et al., 2016). As creators, they are looking to be unique, to stand out from the digital crowd and create an identity of their own.

Conformity influencing Generation Z’s search for identity

While the urge to establish a unique identity for themselves on the digital platform appears to be driving the patterns of social-media usage, an equally strong pressure to conform to the in-group constantly seems to be driving their choices. Be it a display picture (popularly referred to the abbreviated form – DP), a Bitmoji or a cover photo, digital natives dedicate time and efforts to customize their identities according to the requirements of the virtual space occupied by peers and other Digital Natives. A survey by Ziba Design revealed that two thirds of Generation Z members put forth multiple identities in the online space, which are different from their real identity. The fact that these individuals personalise their self-image directly or indirectly with social media posts, shows the immense role that social media plays in influencing and, to some extent, determining the members’ perception of their own as well as others’ identities (Seemiller & Grace, 2018). Another study showed that when the teenage participants received a large number of likes on their own photos uploaded on social media, the reward centres of the brain showed high activity on fMRI scans. The study also highlighted the power of conformity and peer influence on such social media sites, since teens were more prone to liking a photo if it had already received a high number of likes (Chassiakos & Stager, 2020).

The potential of contemporary digital media to influence the generation’s socialization or self-actualization needs is something that differentiates it from traditional media (Dunas & Vartanov, 2020). This could be attributed to the sheer amount of time spent exclusively on social media by individuals from this generation. Earlier generations too were exposed to and influenced by media, but to media that was less pervasive and were also exposed to a variety of other real life social influences. Online digital technology is paradoxically promoting both “human interdependence and individual dependence” (Manago, 2015, p.1), by offering constant human contact even in remote scenarios and by reinforcing acts of self-promotion.

(The author is Assistant Professor (Psychology), FLAME University. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the Financial Express Online.)

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