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Essay: Unlocking the Potential of The Sharded Self – Exploring Identity Evolution and Impact on Fashion, Finance and Hospitality

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  • Published: 1 April 2019*
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  • Tags: Fashion essays

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“The internet affords connection and creativity. It helps build community as well as identity, enriching people’s everyday lives by taking them outside of themselves and into other worlds. The question is whether it takes them so far out of themselves that they are lost in space and don’t return.” (Agger, 2004, p. 160) 

The concepts of identity and persona will be analysed in this report against the macro trend ‘The Sharded Self’. Although seen as a fairly new concept in terms of virtual identity, the report will first show how the notion of splitting one’s identity can be tracked back to the rise of modernity and urbanisation. It will then follow the evolution of the trend in line with the emergence of the world wide web, and the introduction of social media. 

Establishing the key drivers; Social Connectedness, Cyberostracism and Smartphone Slavery, the report will then explore how these drivers impact human behaviour, and in turn, impact the industries of fashion, finance and hospitality. 

The report will then conclude by predicting the future of this trend, serving as a springboard and assisting with the idea generation process for stage one. 

Methodology (books, journals, articles, podcasts; explain reasoning)

Debate the advantages and limitations of the methodology in relation to the project. Discuss who by and when the sources were written, give two examples and why these were useful.

LS:N Global describes The Sharded Self as representing “a teething period as we attempt to balance our online and offline lives.” (Firth, 2014), through which we create several versions of the self. This trend is seen to have sprung from the digital revolution, however the sharding of identity occurred as early as urbanisation and industrialism.

In 1900, the global proportion of the urban population was a meagre 13 percent (United Nations, 2005, p. 1), though by 1950, this number had grown to 30 percent and in 2014 the percentage was 54 (Dastbaz, 2018, p. 5). Up until the 1900s, many people lived in villages consisting of small communities, in which your world views and opinions would be very similar to others, and mainly based around religion.

As the population began to move away from their smaller communities into urbanised areas, individuals began to know each other in different contexts. Berger (1973), describes this movement as ‘plurality of life-worlds’ whereby “different sectors of their everyday life relate them to vastly different and often severely discrepant worlds of meaning and experience.” (Berger, 1973, p. 63).

People began to fragment their personalities depending on whether they were in their private or public sphere, and this translates into present day, in which consumers are fragmenting their personalities depending on virtual or real-life context.

The emergence of the world wide web in 1991 lay the foundation for people to further fragment their personalities, yet now with the disguise of a screen. Instant messaging was the first form of social media to appear in 1996, and in a book published the same year, Turkle (1996) questioned the revolution. “What will computer-mediated communication do to our commitment to other people? Will it satisfy our needs for connection and social participation, or will it further undermine fragile relationships? What kind of responsibility and accountability will we assume for our virtual actions?” (Turkle, 1996, p. 178).

The evolution of social media introduced the ability to connect with friends and meet new people, personalise profiles and upload media. It gave users the facility to control how they appeared to others across the globe. “The lack of censorship and the anonymity that the net seemed to offer would foster a freer, more open society, because people could cast off the tyranny of their fixed real-world identities and create themselves anew.” (Bartlett, 2014, p.7).

(ADD CRITIQUE – nod to the positive aspects of this emergence)

To assist in discovering how this trend is impacting human behaviour, and a number of industries, the established trend drivers need to be explored and their effects analysed.

Social connectedness is defined as “the experience of belonging and relatedness between people” (van Bel, Smolders, Ijsselsteijn, & Kort, 2011, p. 1). Due to the rise of social media and smartphones, consumers are constantly connected to the internet and to each other, therefore their need to experience social connectedness is amplified as they seek out recognition.

The desire for this experience can encourage seekers to fragment their personalities through online subculture. Brady Robard’s study into belonging on social media sites through subcultural manifestations, recognised identities as “fluid, dynamic and reflexively constructed” (Robard, 2011, p. 303). The study looked to discover the pattern between online engagement and interaction, and subculture, by looking into social media profiles and online identity. 

Two participants both identified dance music as an element of their online identity, however they observed that their taste in music also connoted other practices such as attending night clubs and drug usage which they rejected. Robard concurs that although participants were bound to that particular subculture by belonging, they also sought to fragment their personalities by “selectively adopting particular aspects of these narratives…to produce an individualised narrative of identity.” (Robard, 2011, p. 312).


As defined by Williams (2000), cyberostracism is “the intended or perceived ostracism in communication modes other than face to face.” (Williams, 2000, p. 750). The ambiguity of this issue can be seen to increase an individual’s tendency to portray themselves online in a more positive light, in order to receive validity from others.

Schneider discusses how individuals can rebuild the feeling of meaningful existence after they experience cyberostracism, through reaffirming their sense of purpose online, “self-esteem may be regained by increasing one’s self-importance or by remembering past achievements” (2017, p.389 cited Williams 2001, p.64). After building their idealised self within their profiles, revisiting their curated moments which may have gained more traction than others, can increase their feelings of control (Schneider, 2017, p. 389).

Some believe that cyberostracism may cause an anti-social response from recipients and discourage them from sharing content. However, Wesselmann (2015, p. 1 cited Williams 2009) indicates that pro-social behaviours are more common in online ostracism, due to the individual seeking to satisfy their inclusionary needs of belonging and self-esteem, through posting on social media. These individuals will also focus more on re-inclusion than anti-social responses, therefore posting content which will receive a positive response. (Wesselmann, 2015, p.1).

With the upcoming generation of digital natives, also comes a generation enslaved by smartphones and technology.

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