One topic that I’ve had particular interest in has been how our selves are shaped by culture, particularly how cultural developments are changing our sense of self.  I’m planning to write more about that topic; this will be the first in a series of posts about 21st Century selves.

Question-mark-faceFirst, a word about what I mean by the term “self.”  William James gave a decent definition when he wrote that “[A] man’s self is the sum total of all that he can call his, not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes, and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his land and horses, and yacht and bank account.”  We have self concepts—ideas about who we are.  We also have self-awareness—we reflect on who we are and recognize that we are separate from others.  Finally, we engage in self-presentation—intentionally presenting ourselves in a particular way to others.

Here are a few things I’ve written about cultural influences on self-concept, self-awareness, or self-presentation.   In The Facebook Self I described a friend who, as she goes about her day, often reflects on how she will write on Facebook about what she’s done.  I noted that social media have intensified our use of self-presentation strategies and have made what we present to others more central to ourselves than ever before.  I noted that, as we reveal less to others, our self concept is likely to become more constricted.  At the extreme, we end up thinking that we are nothing more than the selves we present to others.

In another post about social media, I wrote in Facebook, Depression, and Community about the association between heavy Facebook use and increased levels of depression.  I looked at how social media profiles are designed to be clever rather than genuine, and asked whether authenticity and community are possible on Facebook.

In Anxiety and Meritocracy, I looked at the effects that the American belief that the hardworking and talented will be the most successful have on our self-evaluation.  I described Maura Kelly’s argument that we are likely to blame ourselves and see ourselves as having little worth if we make poor decisions or don’t achieve at a high level.   I suggested that the high levels of anxiety characteristic of our society are due to our selves constantly being threatened by the negative self-evaluation that results from less-than-stellar achievement.

Finally, my last post was about substance abuse in privileged youth as being related to a lack of character development.  I cited Liz Kulze’s comment that those who have been protected and coddled fail to develop an adequate sense of self.  Such thinly developed selves seem particularly prevalent among young white males from wealthy homes.

So, that’s a summary of what I’ve written so far.  I hope to make more posts about 21st Century selves in the coming weeks.  I welcome any thoughts that you the reader have about how changes in culture are affecting the selves that we construct.