New Media and the Self
The explicit way we become conscious of self-presentation when using new media, social networking sites (SNSs) in particular, may lead to an increase in self-consciousness. You’ll recall that in Chapter 1 "Introduction to Communication Studies" we talked about the role that communication plays in helping us meet our identity needs and, in Chapter 2 "Communication and Perception", the role that self-discrepancy theory plays in self-perception. The things that we “like” on Facebook, the pictures we are tagged in, and the news stories or jokes that we share on our timeline all come together to create a database of information that new and old friends can access to form and reform impressions of us. Because we know that others are making impressions based on this database of information and because we have control over most of what appears in this database, people may become overfocused on crafting their online presence to the point that they neglect their offline relationships. This extra level of self-consciousness has also manifested in an increase in self-image and self-esteem issues for some users. For example, some cosmetic surgeons have noted an uptick in patients coming in to have facial surgeries or procedures specifically because they don’t like the way their chin looks on the webcam while chatting on Skype or because they feel self-conscious about the way they look in the numerous digital pictures that are now passed around and stored on new media. Since new media are being increasingly used in professional capacities, some people are also seeking cosmetic surgery or procedures as a way of investing in their personal brand or as a way of giving them an edge in a tight job market.Jessica Roy, “Facebook, Skype Give Cosmetic Surgery Industry a Lift,” BetaBeat.com, July 11, 2012, accessed November 8, 2012, http://betabeat.com/2012/07/facebook-skype-plastic-surgery-cosmetic-increase-07112012.
Personal media devices bring with them a sense of constant connectivitythat makes us “reachable” nearly all the time and can be comforting or anxiety inducing. Devices such as smartphones and computers, and platforms such as e-mail, Facebook, and the web, are within an arm’s reach of many people. While this can be convenient and make things more efficient in some cases, it can also create a dependence that we might not be aware of until those connections are broken or become unreliable. You don’t have to look too far to see people buried in their smartphones, tablets, or laptops all around. While some people have learned to rely on peripheral vision in order to text and walk at the same time, others aren’t so graceful. In fact, London saw the creation of a “text safe” street with padding on street signs and lamp poles to help prevent injuries when people inevitably bump into them while engrossed in their gadgets’ screens. Follow this link to read a story in Time magazine and see a picture of the street:http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1724522,00.html. Additionally, a survey conducted in the United Kingdom found that being away from social networks causes more anxiety than being a user of them. Another study found that 73 percent of people would panic if they lost their smartphone.Brittney Fitzgerald, “Social Media Is Causing Anxiety, Study Finds,” Huffington Post, July 11, 2012, accessed November 8, 2012,http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/10/social-media-anxiety_n_1662224.html.
Of course, social media can also increase self-esteem or have other social benefits. A recent survey of fifteen thousand women found that 48 percent of the respondents felt that social media helped them stay in touch with others while also adding a little stress in terms of overstimulation. Forty-two percent didn’t mention the stress of overstimulation and focused more on the positive effects of being in touch with others and the world in general. When asked about how social media affects their social lives, 30 percent of the women felt that increased use of social media helped them be more social offline as well.Bonnie Kintzer, “Women Find Social Media Make Them More Social Offline, Too,” Advertising Age, July 9, 2012, accessed November 8, 2012, http://adage.com/article/guest-columnists/women-find-social-media-makes-social-offline/235712. Other research supports this finding for both genders, finding that Facebook can help people with social anxiety feel more confident and socially connected.Tracii Ryan and Sophia Xenos, “Who Uses Facebook? An Investigation into the Relationship between the Big Five, Shyness, Narcissism, Loneliness, and Facebook Usage,” Computers in Human Behavior 27, no. 5 (2011): 1659.