The Cyber Effect by Mary Aiken is an engaging—though at times frightening—study of the effects of technology and Internet culture on persons. She addresses issues such as raising children in a digital environment, the addictive qualities of certain technologies, romance, “cyberchondria,” and the ethics of anonymity. I’ve found it thorough and current. She hits the mark. Aiken writes a challenging and sobering book without resorting to condescension. I encountered this thoughtful section this morning:

Humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers’s work is valuable in terms of illustrating how a young person develops identity. He described self-concept as having three components:

  1. The view you have of yourself—or “self-image.”
  2. How much value you place on your worth—or “self-esteem.”
  3. What you wish you were like—or the “ideal self.”

I think we should consider adding a fourth aspect of “self” to Rogers’s list. In the age of technology, identity appears to be increasingly developed through the gateway of a different self, a less tangible one, a digital creation.

Let’s call this the “cyber self”—or who you are in a digital context. This is the idealized self, the person you wish to be, and therefore an important aspect of self-concept. It is a potential new you that now manifests in a new environment, cyberspace. To an increasing extent, it is the virtual self that today’s teenager is busy assembling, creating, and experimenting with. Each year, as technology becomes a more dominant fact in the lives of teens, the cyber self is what interacts with others, needs a bigger time investment, and has the promise of becoming an overnight viral celebrity. The selfie is the frontline cyber self, a highly manipulated artifact that has been created and curated for public consumption.

But how do we explain that weird, vacant, unmistakable expression on the faces of many selfie subjects? They eyes look out but the mind is elsewhere.

The virtual mirror could be socially isolating, except for one thing. The selfie can’t exist in a vacuum. The selfie needs feedback. A cyber-psychologist might say that’s the whole point of a selfie.

Selfies ask a question of their audience: Like me like this? (Aiken, The Cyber Effect, pp. 171–172)