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Future nostalgia: How online algorithms assign your identity

There is nothing more timeless than the question, “Who am I?” One´s identity is hard to put into words, as we are complex human beings, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. People spend their entire life looking for the right combination of letters, just so that others would perceive them in a certain way.

But the internet has changed the way people identify themselves. Are you “cottage core” or are you “dark academia?” The ever-changing trends on the internet makes it hard especially for young people to find out who they are. One second It is uncool to wear “Y2K”(year 2000) fashion and then suddenly it is again. 

Identities nowadays are more about what communities you belong to. Meaning is centered about belonging and conformity to others. We can ask ourselves the never-ending-question, “am I who I am because of the people around me, or are these people around me because of who I am?” 

The modern internet culture has its own way of categorizing personalities: Hogwarts Houses, Zodiac signs, and  fashion aesthetics.

If we take a look into other cultures, then we see that trying to explain and categorize our identity is not a new thing: Traditional  Chinese medicine differentiates our personalities depending on the balance of the five elements. Hindu Ayurvedic medicine differentiates us between the three mind-body principles called “Doshas.” If we make an excursion to Psychology, we are sorted between Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI-Types). 

But why is the internet so different?

Algorithms, may it be on Instagram, YouTube, or TikTok, are shifting your views of the world to who you are and how you want society to be. Before we easily had access to the internet, social norms of the people surrounding us were setting the standards on how to think, feel and behave. There is a simple reason why we want to conform to them: because we want to be socially accepted, whether this be in person or online. But what algorithms are doing is giving only a limited view of the world, only enough for the user to be satisfied. 

There are countless examples of how this can improve life qualities. It was the Algorithm that made people all over the world aware of the Black Lives Matter movement; body positivity is spread and posted everywhere; people who are sharing their experiences about mental health, and being a minority, which all can make you feel less alone. But not everyone’s intentions are kind-hearted and good. You will see what you want to see; and some people like to see violence and suffering.

Take the pro Anorexia movement from Tumblr in the early to mid 2000s as an example, where users who are mostly young women, gave each other tips on how to lose weight quickly. But the glamorization of suffering is not only in the past: there was a recent Wall Street Journal Investigation about TikTok´s algorithm. They used bots to learn more about extreme behavior: What they found was that every user, sooner or later encounters videos with fewer views that are not moderated. Depending on the kind of content you interact with this can lead to potential harmful content. 

Social media is all about consuming: one major part of our identities is also based on consumption. Through identification of the piece of media we consume, we can talk about our struggles without admitting weakness. I just recently read a really good blog entry by a young female activist that really resonated with my experiences on the internet: it is titled “Standing on the Shoulders of Complex Female Characters” by Rayne Fisher-Quann.

So what happens when you shift away from reality and become the audience and performer at the same time?

In recent times, phones have become an extension of our own identity. What we post and share on social media is like a performance to ourselves and other people. We are trying to imitate how we want to be perceived, which does not always match who we are. The satisfaction that comes with watching your life through a lens created by yourself can be very addicting. It is not always about showing the best sides of our lives, sometimes it is about showing the best sides of our worst ones. 


Maja is a staff writer at the Seattle Collegian, they can be found working at thrift stores and they're a big fan of the buddhist concept of “noble silence”. Their individuality complex was cured after moving to Washington and discovering that not everybody had mandatory latin in school.

When bored in class, people can expect to find Calvin-and-Hobbes-drawings all over Maja’s notes. If they don’t spend their time admiring mediocre skater boys, Maja gets lost in Targets or writes letters and postcards to some of their friends.

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