The Age of Early Self-Conception

On Facebook the other day I viewed a profile of a "friend" who's in college and she typed this as her bio:

me? hmm. well, i'm a fighter. i'm a little crazy, but i'm passionate and i love hard when i do let myself love. when i'm upset, i need ice cream and to have my back rubbed. i'm restless by nature, and am happiest when i'm moving. i'm athletic but not a jock, musical but not a musician, and neither side of my brain seems to be dominant. sometimes i find comfort in words, and sometimes in numbers, but always in the smell of spring and my best friends. i'm bad with change, but get tired of staying the same. i'm contradicting and i think too much, but i'm told that it's cute. i believe in things that happen for a reason, and i hope that Vassar is one of them. i am extreme, i am loved. i am hopeful.

When reading her rather self-conscious, careful bio (though the lowercase letters and opening phrase "me?" attempt to signal the opposite), I was struck: When else have so many millions of people under age 22 been asked to write their "biography" for public consumption? When else have hundreds of millions of people been asked to (essentially) publicly list their interests, favorite quotations, religious views, and political views?

Imagine the tens of millions of 15 year-olds who go to set up their profile and see a big white text book that says "Bio." As the cursor blinks, they ask themselves, "What is my biography? What are my interests? What are my religious views? What is my relationship status? Am I sexually interested in men or women?"

Social network people say that the profile we look at the most is our own. We are very interested in how we present ourselves to the world. But perhaps more important, we are interested in trying to figure out ourselves. As younger and younger people set up profiles, they end up confronting some of the central angst-inducing identity questions early in life.

Insofar as this all prompts reflection on issues, I say 'tis a good thing. But there's also a risk of people too quickly pouring cement on their identity. A 15-year-old selects from a drop down menu "Liberal" and views his page a few times a day. What does that do to his willingness to evolve his mindset?

There should be a checkbox at the top of your profile labeled "Keep Your Identity Small" and it would keep the "bio" box open but disable the other drop-downs. There should be a drop-down option for "Uncertain" in each category.

(A hat tip is owed to somebody for talking to me about this, but I cannot remember who.)

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