Brand I Am (415)

“I think of myself, my name, as a brand,” said one young woman, Fara (all names have been changed to protect privacy). “So I like to stay active on my social-media platforms, but I choose, I select when I share … I have a reputation, and I need to protect it. So I don’t share things that are private, things that are going on in my romantic relationships. I’m very selective. I’m a curator.”

That exchange was hardly unusual. In interview after interview, students defaulted to business jargon to discuss their online lives. They talked of their names as brands, of having multiple “audiences” or “publics,” of social media as a marketing tool for the self. Words like “curate,” “cultivate,” and “craft” came up often in descriptions of their approaches to posting. Contrary to the larger culture’s impression, the average college student is thoughtful and slow to post on profiles attached to their real names, with many young women and men doing so only once a week because they see posting on social media as a laborious activity requiring great effort and careful editing, kind of like homework or a job. (And many students described it that way.)