The Identity of Consumers in Social Networks Italian Internet Users and New Experience of Consumption

By Russo, Giovanna | Polish Sociological Review, July 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

The Identity of Consumers in Social Networks Italian Internet Users and New Experience of Consumption


Russo, Giovanna, Polish Sociological Review


Abstract: Recent technological innovations (Web 2.0) in today's society mean that a major socio-anthropological change is occurring. On the net, audiences can experience new forms of participation, share information and entertainment practices, and establish new relationships. This paper describes the main characteristics of Web 2.0 with specific reference to the Italian context and categories of users who use social networks (and their motivations), using the latest national survey data.

This paper analyzes changes in the identity and culture of consumption, which thanks to social media are today expressed according to the logic of experience and performance. Through social media, performative consumption represents one of the most suitable way to describe the multiple aspects of the contemporary consumer's identity.

Keywords: identity, consumption, social networks, experience, performance.

New Technologies and Participatory Culture: Preliminary Observations

Looking again at the changes in the concepts of identity and consumption in current communication, involved as they are in profound technological changes, gives cause to reflect on some facts: firstly, we live in a period of intense social and cultural changes, and secondly, the use of new technology is tantamount to assuming new forms of communication and social relationships.

Today's younger generation (but also adults, although the elderly less so) surf the internet, "chat" on Facebook, multiply their virtual identities, play online with friends, browse the net, download music and movies... because "relatedness" in cyberspace has become an everyday occurrence. On the Web, thanks to recent technological innovations (Web 2.0), this new media allows users to co-produce most of the content they enjoy and share it with other users [Jenkins 2007, Boccia Artieri 2009]. This creates social networks in which consuming information becomes both a way of building a recognizable identity and expressing visible membership, and of creating relationships.

The pervasive presence of "mediated" relationships in today's society means that a major socio-anthropological change1 is taking place. On the net, the audience can - through user-generated content (UGC) - individually create mass production; thanks to social networks, they can "experience the forms of participation around the sharing of information and entertainment practices, multiplying and innovating the production and reproduction of social capital" (Boccia Artieri 2008: 8). The changes introduced by the communication network are therefore a complex phenomenon, which has to face an "adult humanity" (Granieri 2009), not only because of increased technological capabilities, but also as a result of cultural change and communication.

But what is Web 2.0? And what are the social networks? How many Italians use new technology to become involved in new forms of social relationships? And these relationships - what transformations do they involve? Above all: what changes do these relationships encourage in consumer culture? Such questions are the guidelines of the following considerations.

The "Italian" Web 2.0: Widespread Awareness and Participatory Use of the Net

Sociological studies now agree that the Internet is much more than a medium: the Network of Networks is a genuine communicative environment, within which several different types of communication are developing, as well as new forms of online socialization.

Initial research reveals that the Internet is often used by people to establish new social ties and strengthen existing ones (Boase et al. 2006). This is that part of the internet which has in recent years been called "Web 2.0". The term, coined by Dale Dougherty and popularized by O'Reilly (2005), generally indicates the technological environment in which communication interfaces are developed, which facilitate very active attitudes among surfers, such as:

a) production and exchange of text content;

b) displaying self-produced audio/video material;

c) participation in debates and even individual choices of civic, social and political involvement. …

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