26 March 2008

The new image-makers

One of the points I had raised in my earlier posts on Generation Next was their fearless attitude of sharing personal information publicly on online social networks, forums, chats and databases. They don’t seem to care about who sees their personal profiles, messages, blogs, photos or videos. On the contrary, the more people they connect with online using such personal information and self-expression, the happier they are.

The truth behind this lifestyle is quite interesting. Generation Next actually spends days on end creating their personalities through words, images and music, uploading them and changing them constantly, in order to make themselves attractive to others. One could say they have become their own publicists, creating their own brand identities and flaunting them like marketers do with their brands.

To me, they are the new image-makers of the digital world. A marketer or PR person can learn a lot from them. However, not everyone feels this way.

“But are we seeing real people, or personas?” asks Jennie Yabroff in a recent Newsweek article titled Here’s Looking At You, Kids. Adding later, “Sociologists have begun to question the effect of all this exhibitionism on young people. Can they form durable identities off-camera, or are they so used to producing their images for outside consumption that images have replaced their essences? Will a generation for whom all secrets are fair game and every private moment can become public trust each other and form intimate relationships?”

Now hold on. Aren’t we being too tough on Generation Next? Ms Yabroff’s last question certainly sounds a wee bit judgmental. At least, I feel so. From my experience with them, youngsters today are more open-minded than we are – or were, when we were at their age. For all you know, as Generation Next grows up, they’ll be more skilled – and wise – in handling people and situations than we are today.

Although I, too, believe that self-presentation seems to be a priority for Generation Next, I’m not sure if we can declare that what we see aren’t real people, but only personas. In my generation too, and even earlier, the game between ‘the real’ and ‘the persona’ has always been on. Volumes of psychological theory are based upon it.

What’s the truth of the matter? Well, perhaps what Ms Yabroff mentions towards the end of her article makes sense: “It’s probably too soon to weigh the implication of all this publicization on teens’ abilities to have meaningful experiences off-camera.” But, that’s not the end of it. There are theories on the contrary. So, you might as well read the entire article.

[Citation: Here’s Looking At You, Kids, article by Jennie Yabroff, Newsweek, 15 March 2008.]

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