Think about how often you find a table at a restaurant with everyone looking at their smartphone instead of conversing. Technology certainly has its advantages, but something is clearly wrong with this picture. The concept of identity creates a different perception for everyone. In today’s culture, much of what constitutes a person’s identity may be channeled through social media. The problem is that some people put so much time into their digital profile that their real-world life suffers.
Undergraduate students in my mass communication class this semester have found one way to combat this. They turn going out to eat into a game where all cell phones are stacked at the end of the table. The first person to reach for his phone pays for the meal. Simple enough, but it gets at the heart of a larger concern. Are we struggling to keep our real lives as interesting as our digital ones?
This week, media scholar Douglas Rushkoff, along with PBS, released an excellent documentary called Generation Like. The film details how current teens create online identities and also shows how they are monetized. Some YouTube celebrities like Tyler Oakley have been able to turn social media followers into dollars. Other users remain simply nothing more than super fans content with millions of followers that justify their hours online. Teenagers today are the first generation to grow up with a fully digitalized culture, and we are seeing more signs of that every day in how they define themselves.