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The Digital Self Through the Looking Glass of Telecopresent Others

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The reading I chose to respond to is “The Digital Self Through the Looking Glass of Telecopresent Others,” by Shenyang Zhao. Zhao’s piece doesn’t strongly take sides on the newly added technological element to the formation of self-identity, but merely tries to understand the impacts it may have and some of the reasons why it’s become such an overwhelming element to self-identity. His article is thorough in ideas but lacking in depth and research to back up his claims. Zhao’s discussion of the desire of self-presentation and recognition is a strong one, and useful in proving that with some of the added benefits of telecopresence, it ultimately is devastating for development in the long run. In this response I will elaborate on some of his ideas of why people seek telecopresence and give evidence to reinforce how the digital self is determent to the actual self. My perspective will be heavily influenced by the importance of practicing emotional intelligence in “real life,” not through cyberspace.

Zhao suggests that there are two “main stages” for which evolution takes place during childhood, one being from significant others, and the other from larger society (pg. 153-4). He suggests the influence of the two are relative to one another, that in early adolescence the parents play the major role in the formation of self-identity, but with age the influence of the parents is gradually replaced by the influence of larger society. He also introduces that there are four social domains: family, school, neighborhood, and the newly acquired “online life.” Zhao then explains why teenagers overly use this fourth domain. This leads to what the Internet life creates for the user’s identity, referring to this as the “digital self”. He then spends the remainder of the article describing the digital self that teenagers acquire through their online lives as being inwardly oriented, narrative in nature, retractable, and multiplied. He reflects on these claims as being problematic for historical agents of socialization, and calling it a new rite of passage into adulthood; claiming that these ideas will give a better understanding of the socialization this new Internet era will provide.

Zhao states there are three reasons why teenagers go online: exploration, safe heaven for social interaction, and soul mates (pg. 155). He says the second reason exists because “teenagers are socially adventurous and inexperienced at the same time,” which is precisely why they should not be wasting their time online with this being just a short developmental phase for most. It’s a pivotal point in the child’s development where they are facing their first exposures to various social atmospheres, and habits are being formed due to their inexperience. Looking back from my personal experience, all my memories of my teenage years are hanging out with friends all day socializing, messing around socializing during sports, going home and socializing on the phone till I passed out, then to wake up and repeat the socializing the next day, for ten years.

Now in my early twenties all my efforts and thoughts focus on how I will fit in with the bigger society, where I can make an impact (or a ripple) in the grand scheme of things. I still use many methods from my early social development in every day interactions, some unconsciously because they feel safe. With any learned skill comes the practice time that was put in to make it what it is, through repetition is how habits form whether good or bad. Habits form through repetition due to a brains cell’s ability to create connections between brain cells. In the teenage years this process is hyperactive, a brain cell is able to share 15,000 connections with one single neighboring cell, ensuring that repetition of the thought responsible will not be forgotten through this strong built pathway (Bradberry 52). Thus coining the saying old habits die hard. If relationships are being habitualized through faceless interactions, then there will never be that necessary step that’s needed in “real world” interactions; that necessary step being a trained and experienced emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) consists of two areas, personal competence and social competence. These then each break down into two categories, self-awareness and self-management for personal competence, and social awareness and relationship management for social competence. When used symbiotically individuals are able to use emotion in an extremely beneficial way. Everyone uses emotion in everything they do, on average people experience 50,000 thoughts a day, each one eliciting a chemical reaction in our body caused by an emotion (Bradberry 117). So much emotion is lost in the form of text: tone, physical expression, pace, energy, etc. Emotional intelligence is like a muscle, the more effort that’s put into it the better the results, on the flip side, the less exercise the poorer the results. Over the last decade more than 500,000 people have been tested at how emotions play a role in daily living. Results show that people with the “highest levels of intelligence (IQ) outperform those with average IQs just 20% of the time, while people with average IQs outperform those with high IQs 70% of the time…EQ’s the single biggest predictor of performance in the workplace and the strongest driver of leadership and personal excellence” (Bradberry pg. 8…21). In wanting to become socially superior all four categories must be utilized in everyday practices to reflect the symbiotic property in which they work, because nothing is said or done without them.

Zhao’s narrative in nature property introduces that “telling Telecopresent others who we are therefore requires a level of introspection and reflectivity that is not normally exercised in the realm of face-to-face interaction” (Bradberry 157). This aligns with the emotional intelligence category of self-awareness, but no category can over compensate for another, and certainly not for three others. The digital self may prove to be a positive tool in social situations, but in focusing on making it a secondary social tool, teenagers can properly develop into socially affluent individuals utilizing all of their emotional intelligence capacity by being immersed into a living breathing rapidly spontaneous social environment.

Works Cited

Bradberry, Travis and Jean Greaves. “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” Published by TalentSmart. San Diego, California. 2009. Pgs. 8-157.

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