SUPERHEROES OF DISINHIBITION
As soon as you are online, you are in a different location in terms of your awareness or consciousness, your emotions, your responses, your behaviours. Young people act differently and present themselves differently and react to others, and content, differently, online - saying and doing things that they would not ordinarily say or do in the ‘real’ world. Psychologists call this ‘the online disinhibition effect’, the tendency to self-disclose, be bolder and act with impaired judgement.
The extent to which disinhibition occurs is largely being driven by the anonymity that the web can provide. World-renowned cyber-psychologist Dr. Mary Aiken refers to this sense of anonymity as the modern day equivalent of that superhero power ‘invisibility’. This easily accessible ‘cyberpower’ opens up new worlds for the individual, situations, connections and opportunities that would not be accessible through regular face-to-face interaction.
With the option to present different identities online, young people now have a more fluid notion of identity. Identify for today’s youth changes depending on whether they are online-offline, acting anonymously or publicly, or acting consciously or unconsciously.
FROM MINDLESS TO MINDFUL
Online, when young people binge (6 episodes or 5 hours of content), they mindlessly loop from one content piece to another. Post-binge, they are further looped into relevant content - in the three days post a binge, 61% of us will usually squeeze in a movie related to the previous series we binged. Fans of these binge-worthy series also start to move from a mindless mindset to the more active mindset as they loop into bigger cultural universes.
For example, ‘The Keepers’, is a 7-part Netflix documentary based on the unsolved murder of Cathy Cesnik, a nun and Catholic high school teacher in Baltimore. Not only are people looped into watching the programme, they become part of bigger internet communities who converse and theorise over the series - there are now over 100,000 active members of ‘The Keepers’ Facebook Community who are operating as pseudo detectives trying to figure out ‘who did it’. The individual now has the potential to broaden and expand their knowledge and experience at the touch of a button, and become a part of the wider story as an online, more global, ‘self’.
Luciano Floridi, Director of Research at the Oxford Internet Institute, talks of a ground-breaking shift in self-understanding, spurred on by the digital age and how experiences online and offline bond together:
“As our society increasingly becomes an infosphere, a mixture of physical and virtual experiences, we are acquiring an “onlife” personality - different from who we innately are in the ‘real world’ alone.”
Our various “onlife” behaviours (actions that merge our online and ‘real’ world experiences), significantly change our understanding of the world to make the reality of our daily experience very dynamic, where public and private selves are always ready (to search, to watch, to share, to engage…) and always exposed to connections and information unlike ever before.
Young people understand themselves within a variety of contexts (social platforms, online communities, discussion sites). Young people’s overwhelmingly connected “onlife” opens up vast cultural universes, allowing the individual to choose to share different identities within these different contexts - all depending on how they feel and chose to connect at any given moment.
For young people today, the answer to the question “who am I?” is an exponentially bigger struggle.