THE CONFLICTION OF PUBLIC AND PRIVATE IDENTITY

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Well, in recent semesters of my social psychology classes, I am discovering that when I discuss concepts such as the "saturated self" or the "mutable self," these terms do not seem to provoke much concern or interest among members of the Millennial Generation (that is, those born between 1982 and 2002). Their "selves" may be saturated, but they don't recognize it because this has been their experience since day one. The self in flux is normative for them. Thus, my "modern" notions of what is involved in constructing a coherent self and maintaining continuity of identity in these postmodern times (and the assertion that this is an important task for each of us) may not be viewed as a worthwhile or necessarily relevant topic of study among this generation of students. Key questions I have include: How are Millennials' individual identities constructed? Might we be witnessing/experiencing significant changes in certain aspects of self-construction with the current generation of young people? Is the distinction between "private identity" and "public identity" relevant among Millennials? It is this latter question that is the primary subject of this essay.

An important characteristic of the Millennial Generation is the phenomenon of "public" (as opposed to, and maybe even in place of, "private") identity. Let's face it: Members of the Millennial Generation are typically not real familiar with solitude. The notion that privacy is a "right" that individuals should have is likely lost on the Millennial. It simply has not been the reality for members of this generation to be afforded the experience of true solitude or a sense of privacy. After all, these are young people who have been subjected to security measures in various forms and in numerous settings (schools, airports, malls). In many settings, the words, "This Area Under Constant Surveillance," are posted. We hear about both parents and youth using "webcams" to capture everyday behaviors. Furthermore, Millennials have been socialized to do things in groups. Sociologist Erving Goffman (1959) distinguished between "back stage" and "front stage." While the front stage is where one "performs" for a social "audience," the back stage is where the individual plans and prepares for the performance, hidden from the audience. For Millennials we have to wonder if the back stage truly exists. Or, is it the case that it's all front stage?

 

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