Identifying Identity with Steven Ramey

“Identifying Identity” offers a series of responses from members of Culture on the Edge to the following claim made by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg:

David Kirkpatrick expressing his ideas about how a person only has one identity

Steven Ramey:

Michael Zimmer’s critique of Zuckerberg’s assertion that people should only have one identity reflects my initial reaction to that statement, as Zuckerberg ignores the strategic ways that everyone presents themselves. Embedded within Zimmer’s critique, however, is a similar notion of the stable self. He writes, “It is not that you pretend to be someone that you are not; rather, you turn the volume up on some aspects of your identity, and tone down others, all based on the particular context you find yourself.” The identity is stable, and we strategically choose what aspects to emphasize here or there. But, processes of identification are more complicated than that.

I do not see myself as being the same as I was when I was in high school. I have different questions, different ideas, different emphases than I did even a few years ago. I can create a narrative of continuity, of course. For example, an interest in other cultures while growing up connects to my career studying and teaching about India, yet that narrative of continuity glosses over very different approaches to other cultures and motivations for that interest.

I doubt that Zimmer or Zuckerberg would declare that they perceive themselves the same way that they did as children, of course. But when did these changes occur? We can point to seminal experiences that galvanized these changes, but such reflections hide our continual changing. Often, even significant changes come through a lengthy process of shifts and small changes. We may recognize them fully until years later, but that does not mean that we aren’t changing a bit each day. Yes, we strategically represent ourselves depending on our context, but we are not simply pulling from a stable, unchanging self. Zimmer’s and Zuckerberg’s ideas about identity are more alike than they appear at first.

To read the other posts in this series, search the Real Name tag.

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