Many of you are probably already familiar with the term ‘media ecology’ and how our interactions with the media environment shape our culture and experiences. Although sceptical of any claim that our behaviours are controlled by the media, it is hardly controversial to say that we can be influenced by the media we consume. And a place where the media influences us the most is on our identities and how we see the world. Media throughout history has been an invaluable tool that has helped us identify our shortcomings and build ourselves up. Nevertheless, media can also be the downfall of our identity. If we let it consume us entirely by changing our identities to suit the media we consume, we can lose part of who we are. And most importantly take away the space needed in our lives for our sense of self.
My Media Identity
In our everyday lives we are exposed to a variety of media, from video, and written, to audio, and so much more. With all of this supposed variety, we like to assume that what we have is a uniquely individualised experience. That our use of media makes us different from everybody else, and that we are an individual amidst a blank-faced sea of bodies. Are we though? Perhaps the specific material of what we watched, what we read, or what we communicated through media is not identical to every user. But we all still go through the same platforms, apps and companies to communicate.
Superficially, though the content of media we consume may be different, our reactions and experiences to that media are not. Whether it is spending hours mindlessly scrolling on Instagram or TikTok, selectively reading the Abstract, Introduction and Conclusion of an academic article, or flinching at a jump scare, we all can find ourselves in one of, if not more, of these moments. Experiences that on a surface level feel unique and special to us, but are really no different than those of everyone else.
We desire to be seen as individuals, but when so much of our experiences with media that shapes our identity does the opposite, where do we find space for ourselves in the world? A question with no simple answer, but it helps to understand why we seek out similar experiences to others to begin with.
The Media Mob
When we incorporate the media as part of our identity, we naturally want to seek others that share our perspectives and preferences in life. There is comfort found in a community that reinforces our identity as it relates to the media we enjoy, and our beliefs of the world based on our interpretations of that media. It can be comforting to have your identity be validated by a community of your peers. Yet, it is all too easy to get lost in these spaces.
Particularly in online spaces and social media, there is a strong temptation to present ourselves as someone we are not. Although these spaces can provide support, they can also be incredibly isolating. Groups tend to act differently from individuals, and even though as individuals they may not be all too different from us, when put into a group they can behave like some huge raving maniac with specific practices and behaviours that work to isolate the individual.
Or, out of fear of this rejection and isolation by those we see as similar to ourselves we double-down on the group-think, and shape our identity to be more conforming to the community. Encouraging our worst behaviours both online and offline, as we give more and more of the space needed for ourselves over to the group. Being asked to give ever more of ourselves to the group, while receiving diminishing returns, as who we are will never truly be enough.
Making Space In Our Media
When so much of our identity and who we are is tied up in the media we consume and the relationships we develop around this identity, it is important to make space for ourselves. The core of who we are as a person that extends beyond the media we consume, but is not entirely separated from that same media either.
We can protect this space by being considerate of the media we choose to consume and those we consume inadvertently. Are we only seeking out the things we want to hear, or are we finding the things we need to hear? Additionally, we can seek out our ‘discomfort zones’. We will never learn anything new by only consuming what is familiar to us, and by learning what is unfamiliar, we can make more space for ourselves. So, take some time to acknowledge how the media has influenced you, and the ways in which you can develop a healthier sense of identity for yourself. I know I will.
Editor: Luca Rietkerk
Cover Image: Pexels/Mike B