In Chapter 5 of Rainie and Wellman (2012), the authors discussed networked relationships. As Wade effectively demonstrated in his post, individuals have numerous person-to-person networks, where each person engages in multiple roles with differing individuals. On page 124 Rainie and Wellman mentioned that “such networks provide diversity, choice, and maneuverability at the probable cost of overall cohesion and long-term trust”. Furthermore, these person-centered networks provide individuals with “support, sociability, information, and a sense of belonging”, but that different networks provide different benefits for the member.
The chapter further expanded on a concept that has interested me for some time: the idea that “our ‘second lives’ online are different from our selves offline” (p.126). The authors argued that this is not necessarily the case and that our offline and online lives are closely integrated. But they also seemed to recognize that “the networked self” is reconfigured in different situations and with different people. In a sense, or at lease what this says to me, is that we accentuate or suppress aspects of our authentic selves depending on the social situations we are in. I interact with my classmates differently than I do with my family, and I interact with my family differently than I do with my friends. I would argue that this extends into the realm of our online interactions as well.
While it is extremely easy to reinvent yourself online or create a carefully crafted Facebook profile, I think networked relationships can be profoundly important to some people’s identity construction. I am thinking particularly of individuals whose offline lives lack the social support that they desire. For example, if a gay teen feels it is socially detrimental to “come out” given the physical environment he is in, he may still be able to find support online and interact with others who have similar experiences. Social identity theorists have used the term “identity gap” to describe the dissonance between how individuals view themselves and whether or not they are able to project their authentic selves. In this way I think social media and the internet can serve as an effective outlet for expression of one’s authentic identity. No matter what one’s identity, interest or cause, there are online networks that create a sense of belonging.
Rainie, L., & Wellman, B. (2012). Networked. The new social operating system. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.