I am not what I think I am. I am not what you think I am. I am what I think you think I am. Charles Horton Cooley
I recently became aware of the social psychological concept of lookin-glass self created by Charles Holton Cooley in 1902. The theory says that people shape their self based on how other people perceive them. I suppose that means that the image we have of ourselves doesn’t only change rapidly, but we could also have several different ones at the same time. We are playing a sort of a role, providing this theory is correct, and our identity is in constant motion. This doesn’t sound unproblematic because recent theories also states that we act in accordance with our own self-image. That makes having a realistic self-image important.
I am not convinced that Cooley was entirely correct, or that the recent theory is for that matter. Imagine people like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. They don’t seem to have a very realistic idea about themselves because people constantly tell them a different story. This got me thinking of a theory I’ve written about previously. A study conducted by Northwestern Medicine suggests that we change our memories every time we think of them. The memory becomes a little less accurate every time we recall it because it’s not the original memory we pick from our mental shelves, but the memory of the last time we recalled it. The initial moment will slowly disappear. There could be people that have stored a memory or a fraction of a memory about you. My mother for example remembers details from my childhood that seem to be long gone from my head, and when she is gone, that memory is gone.
This may cause me to become rather philosophical. Who are we? We are probably more in control than anyone else in history. We have the opportunity to dictate our own biography and publish it on facebook, twitter, or one of the photo-sharing sites. We could in theory dictate how other people perecive us. It’s the interaction with other people that determines who we are, but what is social media doing to this interaction? Is it doing something to our identity? Identity has always been a fluid concept, but the question is whether it’s possible to lose oneself in the virtual world. What do you think? Do you think Cooley’s theory had more merit a hundred years ago?