Millennials caught between their private & public personas

03 July 2017 - 12:32 By LINDA BLAIR
Both sides of oneself need to be nurtured.
Both sides of oneself need to be nurtured.

Social and developmental psychologists have long argued we need both a private and a public persona. We need a public self to allow us to fit into society and a private self to develop our own uniqueness.

Nowadays, when we spend so much time on social media and allow personal data to be gathered and stored online, the distinction between our public and private self is rapidly decreased.

Preliminary research into the psychological health and predominant character traits of millennials, the first generation to grow up in the digital age, suggests no real cause for concern.

Nichole Borges and colleagues at Northeastern Ohio College of Medicine compared the character traits of millennials at medical school with classmates from the preceding generation.

They found millennials to be warmer and outgoing, adaptive, socially bold and direct, and more organised and self-disciplined - but, at the same time, less self-reliant and more self-doubting.

Jean Twenge of San Diego State University, the author of Generation Me, presents a similarly mixed but balanced picture. She found millennials to be tolerant of others, open-minded and confident, but also politically disengaged, anxious and distrustful of authority.

Other studies offer similar profiles - and, of course, no one can prove a causal relationship between the character traits of millennials and the decreasing distinction between their public and private lives.

But there are reasons to be concerned about a total merging of public and private self. Studies such as those conducted by Robert Lyman at the University of Alabama and Ute Gabriel at the University of Bern show that if we think we're being watched, we're likely to comply with the wishes of those around us, rather than stick to our own beliefs and inclinations.

The more we rely on our public self to make decisions and to guide our behaviour, the less individualistically we think and behave

The more we rely on our public self to make decisions and to guide our behaviour, the less individualistically we think and behave. Although this makes for greater social harmony, it comes at a cost.

Julie Cohen, professor of law at Georgetown University, presents this argument eloquently in her article What Privacy is For in the Harvard Law Review. Privacy, she argues, is a shorthand for breathing room, for time that allows us to develop our own unique identity, one that's not pandering to surveillance, judgment or social values.

When we're alone we can decide how we'd like to develop our positive traits and change those that aren't helping us realise our dreams.

And perhaps most importantly, time as your private self is time to play, experiment and dream without fear of censure. Only in this way can new and original ideas emerge. -The Daily Telegraph

• This article was originally published in The Times.