The default strategy that youngsters say they use in communication, both online and offline, is authenticity. Almost religiously they state that they try to always be “themselves”. They deny playing different roles in different situations, as Erving Goffman described as happening, and deny adapting themselves to the demands of a situation.
While this strategy does little to create an identity, it occurs it does have a real use. Francesca Gino and Maryam Kouchaki argue that feeling authentic “serves as a buffer against social rejection” and “leads people to appraise situations as less threatening”.
If we follow Zygmunt Bauman’s analyses that reality has become fluid because it is moving too fast to crystallize in analysis or understanding and that because of it we all fear being socially rejected for not keeping up, feeling authentic all of a sudden seems an appropriate strategy to try and cope. This is not to say, that Bauman condones this strategy. He rather makes fun of the marketed concept of authenticity in our fluid reality.
Under our current lockdown, the strategy of feeling authentic seems to be more of a mixed bag. On the one hand, feeling authentic helps us cope, just like in normal times. But on the other hand, it nudges us to take the dangers of the current situation less seriously. If we look at those who resist social distancing restrictions the most, there seems to be a correlation with feeling authentic. In Western Europe especially the young defy the imposed restrictions, in the United States rather individuals who identify with national authenticity are rebelling against the rules.
Next time someone conveys the message online that they are just being authentic, I’ll try to keep the above in mind.