How My Generation's Identity is Shaped by the Internet

A troubling identity crisis is becoming apparent in teenagers of my generation. While gender identification may be a more publicized issue, the internet has introduced a significantly more common phenomenon: the separation -- sometimes more like a chasm -- between online and real personas. The two most typical cases of this separation I'll call the "Troll" and the "Facebook Faker," small indications of which can be found in almost all teenagers of my generation who regularly use the internet. In my opinion these phenomena are distracting my generation from learning to live as who we really are.

A Troll stalks public internet forums, such as Reddit or the YouTube Comments Section, and continually voices negative or derogatory opinions about the content (such as a video or a blog) or its creator. Because internet accounts on these websites don't reveal identity, they don't connect with a teenager's real social life, allowing Trolls to say whatever they please. They typically slam content creators for minute mistakes because there is no social backlash to deal with as a result of their scathing and profane words. Trolls are a new incarnation of your typical school bully except that they are anonymous, hiding within the internet and expressing anger and frustration that they hide in face-to-face life. Like your run-of-the-mill bully, they inflict hurt because of some problem of their own, such as feeling inferior. Because of the internet, though, they are never held accountable in a way that will bring this problem into focus for their parents or others, enabling their identity separation to continue.

The Facebook Faker is similar to the Troll in that he is attempting to demonstrate superiority, but instead of harsh words uses carefully selected pictures or even fake ones. Because his online persona is directly tied to his name, this case of identity separation is more extreme than the Troll. The Facebook Faker rewrites and glamorizes elements of his life: family, friends, college, job, and really anything else you could think of. As an avid user, I can tell you that these types of people are usually easy to spot, but the prevalence of this behavior gives even confident people a sense of distrust about what their friends post to their wall. And, unfortunately, Facebook faking can be felt as intense psychological bullying by those who are naively coerced into thinking they have fewer friends or less wonderful lives than others. The time it takes to set up and monitor a fake Facebook page is also huge. Teenagers spend this time because they are unsatisfied with their life... which they could be enhancing with the time they used to fake a page.

Minor examples of Facebook Faking can be found on almost any Facebook page. Few people upload pictures of themselves after just waking up with bed head sticking straight up. Instead, many people upload "candid" pictures with their hair brushed, their makeup done meticulously, and their arms wrapped around similarly beautiful people. The person a viewer usually sees on Facebook is the touched up "screen" version of the person in real life. This less extreme separation ultimately detaches even friends that we know in real life from their true personas. But wouldn't it be better if we learned to have the confidence to show our friends who we really are?

Now, social networking isn't all bad. It helps people connect and communicate remotely in a way that was impossible twenty years ago, but it, like most other things, needs to be used "for its intended purposes" and in moderation. Healthy relationships need face-to-face contact or at least voice-to-voice contact. They feed off of the living qualities of another person's presence and emotions. After all, we are animals, not machines. If you'd like to contest this point, look at the movie Her, which is essentially about a lonely writer falling in love with his phone's personal assistant. The movie makes the point that if you try to communicate only through social media or the internet, how do you know that the person on the other end is real? So, maybe you (and I) should meet up with friends in town rather than Snapchatting with them for the whole day or play a game of soccer on the quad rather than a game of FIFA. Most importantly, we should learn to live as and like who we really are, rather than acting out fake lives on the internet.