In this essay I will analyze and discuss the topic of social media use and personal identity. This topic is a point of interest across many disciplines including sociology, psychology, business, and even anthropology. Within this interdisciplinary research essay, I will specifically examine and juxtapose sociological research with an evaluation of big data. Furthemore, I will make a case for why I believe social researchers should be implementing and connecting big data towards this topic instead of primarily focusing on qualitative research methods. Sociological interest in the area is quite recent and the primary research being executed by sociologists in reference to this topic of media and identity dates back to 2014. (Duck) Alongside my analysis, I will attempt to answer two questions. First, how can an individual or society characterize themselves through their social media habits? Second, is social media personalization related to cultural or self identification?
The methodology for this topic has primarily been examined through qualitative procedures of analysis and research. Social scientists have implemented core research methods like interviews and case studies in order to obtain a more detailed collection of data as well as to gain a deeper understanding of the topic of identity. Through my personal research, I have been able to recognize that the research community predominantly believes that media is inherently central to the expression of individual identity. This is due to the fact that as individuals, we are constructed culturally, biologically, psychologically, and socially by the social groups they we associate with. (Knight)
The strongest theories or answers surrounding this topic tend to focus on the relationships between technology, social identity, community, and culture. However, I believe that solely focusing on qualitative research methods inherently diminishes a modern form of research which is big data. Big data is a form of quantitative research that analyzes and tracks individuals’ virtual footprints online and helps numerous companies understand consumer buying habits, personal likes or dislikes, and even demographic information. Implementing big data into a technologically diverse and dependent society like ours will ultimately highlight crucial connections between social media and self identity.
We currently live in a society where there is this metaphorical “cloud” that is filled with millions of pictures of our individual lives and millions of other personal files. Nevertheless it is important to understand that we all interact with technology in extremely unique ways, however at the end of the day we all still depend on it. This brings up the question of what makes us diverse, how we became so diverse, and how that plays a role in shaping our individual identities within our online communities or social media platforms. I believe that social researchers need implement the examination of big data in relation to social media usage and self identification to better understand how people define their identity. (Elsakkar)
In the book titled, “Location-Based Social Media Space, Time and Identity”, written by Michael Saker and Leighton Evans, the authors connect the effects of using “locative social media” in relation to individual identity. In short, locative social media is any mobile application that requests permission to use your location. (Evans) This is a an extremely relevant topic due to the fact that we are exposed to many different technological advancements that are progressively growing and ultimately forcing people to share their location through mobile applications.
These applications range from food delivery, ridesharing, maps, dating, banking, online shopping and thousands more that require location services. Take Uber for example, locative social media analysis would explore how location-based platforms like the mapping function are used to communicate and coordinate social interactions in public space. This ultimately affects how people approach their surroundings and it turns ordinary life ‘into a game’, all while altering how mobile media is involved in understanding the world. (Evans) Future generations will inherently make the majority of their personal decisions online. Furthermore, location will be crucial to discovering how people interact and share their individual identity within each community.
Additionally, in their article titled, “Constructing the Self in a Digital World” Brian Foley and Cynthia Ching target identity as an aspect of individual engagement with technology. It is crucial to understand that there is a choice when it comes to technology. There’s a choice on what to use, when to use it, and how to use it. However, at the end of the day I believe that we are all forced to participate in technology platforms in one way or the other. We live in a technologically dependent society and in order to maintain a relationship with your job or daily habits, one must keep up with the trends. This ultimately effects that way individuals shape or solidify their identities. The argument here is rooted within the relationships between our increasingly digital world and our evolving personal identities.
Examples of this interconnection include but are not limited to virtual environments, video games, social media, and mobile applications, and daily tasks that involve technology in some way. Brian Foley and Cynthia Ching also examine a crucial relationship between technology and the learning habits of children. They analyze the role of social media within lives of children and youth while connecting the increased interdependence in identity validation through social media. (Ching) In simple terms, kids are exposed to technology at a younger age and are ultimately found looking for community acceptance on each social media platform. I believe that this is a crucial connection to make due to the fact that the majority of education programs across the united States are implementing technology into the classroom. This will innately change and affect the learning styles of these kids and even more importantly it will make an impact on how they decide to shape their own individual identities.
Community research studies have primarily been conducted regarding the topic of social media and identity as a crucial aspect of how our society primarily expresses itself. Individuals within each respective community are now able to present themselves to larger groups of populations and ultimately grow their personal narratives. Upon further analyzation, we can also translate that as a natural need to express our individual characteristics within unique cultural subgroups. Technology acts the unifying medium for individuals to share and explore their personalities. (Sergeant) We can continue to examine this relationship through two articles that I believe connect to a central theme of self and identity.
Hüseyin Cinoğlu and Yusuf Arıkan wrote an article in 2012 titled, “Self, Identity and Identity Formation: From the Perspectives of Three Major Theories”. From their research, both Cinoğlu and Arikan come to the conclusion that there are three core concepts that explain one’s identity and how that identity is formed. The first is designated as the social identity theory, which believes that group membership or simply being part of a group is the leading cause of individual formation. The next concept is called identity theory and it is rooted in the individual roles that are assigned to people within those groups, which further solidifies their identity. The last theory is called personal identity theory and it targets personal values throughout the identity formation process and how that ultimately shapes personal identity. (Cinoğlu + Hüseyin AL 2012)
Another source that I believe touches on the interconnection between media and identity is Julia Knight’s article titled “Identity and Social Media”. Knight believes that media is essential to the individual identity formation of all people. Two main theories arise within this article that I believe are similar to Cinoğlu and Arıkan’s analysis of identity. However, Knight identifies and connects heavily to the symbolic relationship that media carries. The first theory is titled symbolic functions and it simply targets the actual purpose of media and its role for individuals.
The second theory is rooted in community examination and it is established through the comparison of the individual identity to the collective identity of the community. Knight believes that people develop their own personal media habits through the influence of their larger communities. (Knight) The media platforms from each culture inherently play a role in shaping the likes and dislikes of an individual. Both of these articles target important aspects of the media’s relationship to identity, however they implement qualitative methods which I believe do not promote a deeper analysis. In my opinion, big data will ultimately give them access to a multitude of quantifiable answers and it will give them the ability to compare and contrast multiple identity groups.
Furthermore in their article titled The Language of Social Media: Identity and Community on the Internet, Philip Seargeant and Caroline Tagg state that concept of personal individuality can be located deeper within communities by analyzing the language of social media and how individuals interact with it. (Sergeant) A community can naturally share a universal outlook on media, however each individual can have their own perspective towards it. This new perspective is more personal to that individual and once again is capable of changing over time. Big data supports researchers by giving them the opportunity to look at a vast amount of data on a community and analyze the similarities or differences. One crucial benefit of implementing big data is that it allows social researchers to see a consistent progression of people’s digital footprint. This is beneficial because it gives researchers the opportunity to analyze someone’s past identity, their current identity, and even make predictions about what their future identity would consist of. This timeline is also effective when it comes to comparing and contrasting different communities.
In a recent article titled, “Beyond the Hype: Big Data Concepts, Methods, and Analytics”, Amir Gandomi and Murtaza Haider present a detailed examination of big data’s purpose in multiple disciplines of research across different fields. The part of the article I focused in on was their analysis of social media metrics. Gandomi and Haider state that, “Community detection, also referred to as community discovery, extracts implicit communities within a network. For online social networks, a community refers to a sub-network of users who interact more extensively with each other than with the rest of the network. Often containing millions of nodes and edges, online social networks tend to be colossal in size. Community detection helps to summarize huge networks, which then facilitates uncovering existing behavioral patterns and predicting emergent properties of the network.” (Gandomi 2014)
I believe that this research is important because it is evident that we possess the technology to group individual communities of people, analyze their behavioral patterns, likes or dislikes, and even reveal who in the community is connected on a broader level. I believe that social scientists need to implement big data in order to gain contemporary metrics on individual identities through social media — the spearhead of individualism in our technological society. Using this quantitative mode of inquiry will benefit future researchers in answering questions regarding the interconnection between media beyond its nutritional value and personal identity as a whole. By analyzing these metrics, social scientists will be able to increase their data on the modern day individual and how they decide to define their personal identity with social media as the medium.
To conclude, I believe that the preceding research accurately depicts why we should examine the relationships people have with media and analyze how this correlation reveals a great deal of information about their personal identity. However, I believe that prior research has overlooked and neglected the crucial mode of inquiry that is remnant data or “big data”. I think that implementing big data into a technologically diverse and dependent society like ours will ultimately highlight crucial connections between social media and self identity. I believe that researchers of this topic are missing out on a modern perspective through the examination of remnant data in relation to media and self identification.