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How social media are changing community and identity

By Mal Fletcher - posted Thursday, 10 April 2014

Who do we think we are? How do we define ourselves in the midst of a rapidly changing society? What part do social media now play in defining our identity and is their role a positive one?

This week the BBC released the findings of an IPSOS Mori poll it had commissioned looking at how people in the UK define their identity.

The poll asked respondents to imagine that they were introducing themselves to someone they'd not met before. It then asked them to describe who they were, without referencing their family and friends or their work.


The responses were categorised under such headings as "Social Class", " Interests and Leisure Activities", "Ethnicity", "Religion", "Values and Outlook" and "Personal Views and Opinions".

Across the country, the highest percentage of responses came in under the latter two headings. Only a fifth or a quarter of people in most regions defined themselves in terms of their nationality. With the exception of London, less than 10 percent of people in most regions defined themselves on the basis of ethnicity.

I see no reason to believe that the result would be vastly different in other parts of the developed world. And though it may at first seem confusing, it is the result we should perhaps expect in an increasingly globalised and urbanised environment.

For most of human history, the vast majority of people lived in small communities where they spent most of their lives. Urban enclaves were tiny by today's megacity standards.

People's basic values and outlook were to a large degree commodities shared across the local community.

Today's globalisation, however, has brought with it increased mobility. Where we've come from and what we think are now not so closely aligned. Globalisation has brought a world of ideas to our doorsteps.


Added to greater mobility, we now face the social and psychological challenges posed by urbanisation. As more of us crowd into fast-growing cities, we find ourselves surrounded by people of many different ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds.

In the wake of greater global mobility and urban expansion, tribalism has increased, as people seek others who think like them and share similar life experiences, often outside of their immediate physical environment.

Social media and other forms of digital communication provide major portals through which we establish new tribes. This is especially true for the Millennial generation, the world's first digital natives.

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Hear Mal's BBC Radio interview on this issue: Click here This is an extract- read the full article at

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About the Author

Mal Fletcher is a media social futurist and commentator, keynote speaker, author, business leadership consultant and broadcaster currently based in London. He holds joint Australian and British citizenship.

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