Reading Response: Howard Rheingold’s “With Sherry Turkle, author of ‘Life on the Screen’”

In this piece, Professor Rheingold presents some of Sherry Turkle’s ideas about what the online social communities and fragmentation of identity online are doing to our notion of self. He writes about the fragmented nature of social interaction online: “you cycle for a few hours among your identi-frags. Chat, compose, MUD, surf, chat, compose, MUD, surf. You do this all day, every day. For years.” For today’s youth, the cycle looks something more like “Facebook, write some of your paper, surf, browse, Snapchat, text, Facebook, text, write some more of your paper, Yik Yak, text, Tweet, Insta, text, write some more of your paper, Facebook, text, Snapchat, Facebook, Snapchat, finish the paper. Go to bed. Repeat.” but the general principle is the same. By constantly being semi-engaged in multiple social platforms and switching our attention from one thread to the next, we make it impossible for ourselves to ever be fully engaged in a task, and we place ourselves in the mindset of constant multi-tasking and prioritizing social interactions. Being constantly plugged into multiple social circles, we surrender some of our identity to the web, and we fragment our personality into discrete chunks for targeted broadcasting. Not only does the way we use the web shape our self-identity, it shapes the way that many other people view us as well. In today’s world, my first face to face meeting with a potential employer is inherently shaped by the information I found out about them while stalking their LinkedIn. A first date is inherently shaped by the information people find out about each other from stalking their Facebook accounts or dating profiles. Professor Rheingold urges us to consider what the long-term effects of these behaviors will do to our identities. Will we reach a point when we are so dependent on machines to convey our identities that we won’t know who we are if we’re unplugged?