Last week was a bad week for me. No, there were no disasters at work, I did not lose my cellphone – my Internet was not working. According to my Internet service provider, “unknown causes” led to an outage in my neighborhood. This meant no TV, phone, or Internet. Now, my sister may have had a small tantrum at the TV not working (apparently DVR is a matter of life-or-death), but, for me, lack of Internet caused a small panic attack.
Although looking back, my reaction seemed a bit extreme, but according to an article in the New York Times this week, my feelings toward the internet are not so out of the ordinary.
This generation needs to be constantly connected to the Internet, with 75% of American Millennials admitting that a week without Wi-Fi would be worse than a week without coffee. The Internet is key not only in entertainment (watching movies or TV online, for example), but also in maintaining relationships, with 44%of American Millennials saying it would be difficult to stay in touch with family and friends without Wi-Fi.
While our smart phones can connect us to the Internet and most of the sites we visit, it’s just not the same. So why is being disconnected such a disaster for us? Are we just addicts, or is it something a little bit deeper?
My lack-of-connectivity crisis last week highlights the deep, complicated relationship between our Internet activities and our identities. While I was studying sociology at college, I frequently found myself returning to Symbolic Interactionism, a theory based in the belief that meaning is derived from interaction.
Symbolic Interactionism is an over-arching school of thought within Sociology, breaking down into more detailed theoretical perspectives. Herbert Blumer, the sociologist credited with popularizing the theory, posited that individuals, interacting with one another (not to mention inanimate objects) are not just simply reacting to one another, but interpreting their actions and modifying their own behavior based on those interpretations. This process then creates meaning for the individual.
Think about this theory with a more practical example: a first date. I am not just going to react to my date’s words, but I will try to interpret them, understand why he is saying them. Does he like me? Am I his type? Do I like him? My interpretations of my date’s actions create meaning for me, the meaning that this person has for me, but also my concept of self, my identity.
Some say we are a generation of narcissists, using social media to further our own self-importance, but it’s not that simple. In a recent Pew study, researchers found that Millennials were more likely to engage in “reputation management” in the online space — perfect evidence for the theory of the “Looking Glass Self,” which dictates that we see ourselves as we perceive others see us.
We are very aware of who is looking at our profiles, photos, and links, as well as how the content associated with our names makes us appear to our peers. So, if we are extremely conscious of how we appear online, deriving our identity from our online interactions, not having access to that space is extremely anxiety-inducing. We feel like we are missing something and I’m not just talking about missing the next hilarious post on The Daily What.
Interaction creates meaning. We have been brought up on the Internet, talking with our friends or playing online games and watching viral videos. It is how we share, how we interact and how we express ourselves, but more importantly, it is how we define ourselves. A week without Internet would be a week without a piece of our identity.
Photo by tiseb