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  • Writer's pictureJo Sutherst

Final Major Project: Research – Gergen’s ‘Social Saturation’

Gergen’s term “Social Saturation” which refers to ordinary people living with constant change. This change comes from the endless electronic messages and stimuli we receive. Under this sensory assault, our identity and the idea of self is broken down, and as a result, we change to meet the expectations of others. (Gergen 2010)

Gergen argues that “social saturation has come to dominate everyday life… as we become increasingly conjoined with our social surroundings, we come to reflect those surroundings. There is a populating of the self, reflecting the infusion of partial identities through social saturation.” (Gergen 2010:49)

The internet and social media expose us to a vast range of people. We experience different opportunities than those of a face to face world. We develop new forms of relationships with others around the globe. Our feeling can be intensified by these relationships and experiences. This exposure affects us. We continue to incorporate information from these encounters in an online environment. We are programmed as humans to ingest and interpret huge amounts of information about the patterns of interchange we experience. We learn what information to share and how to share it. We shape our posts online to make them easy for others to consume and accept. We mould our identities to meet the expectations of others.

Gergen cites the work of psychologists Hazel Markus and Paula Nurius when he explains that they “speak of possible selves, the multiple conceptions people harbor of what they might become, would like to become, or are afraid to become. In each case, these possible selves function as private surrogates for others to whom one has been exposed – either directly or via the media”. (Gergen 2010: 72)

This online exposure is without the traditional bounds of our relationships. The past can be continuously reviewed. Distance is no longer a barrier to the relationship. Time and space are irrelevant. Gergen proposes that exposure to the feelings and interests of others begin to embed themselves as our feelings and interests. (Gergen 2010)

We are provided with ever new and developing criteria against which to evaluate ourselves. We compare ourselves to others and adapt our online posts to reflect the success of others. If we don’t do this, we are threatened with feelings of inadequacy and failure in the eyes of others.

We are all exposed to this. Online we have ‘friends’ and connections with people we have never met (and probably never will). Our capacity for maintaining genuine relationships is saturated. We try to engage with a greater and greater number of people; we all want to be the person with the most ‘likes’, ‘friends’, or followers. We experience self-doubt and a lack of confidence if we do not get approval from those online.

Away from the online world, who are we? Do we know how to interact meaningfully with people face to face, or are we overwhelmed with our online selves?


Gergen, K. J. 2010. The Saturated Self. New York: Basic Books.

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