Navigating Identity in a Digital Age

On Feb. 26, 2020, the Zahava and Moshael Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought, in partnership with the Wurzweiler School of Social Work and the Jay and Jeanie Schottenstein Honors Program, hosted Dr. Eli Gottlieb for a presentation on “Identity in the Digital Age.” Dr. Gottlieb, currently a visiting associate professor at George Washington University, previously ran the Mandel Leadership Institute in Jerusalem and is an expert in both philosophy and the psychology of religion.

Contrasting self-definition prior to, and in, the current digital age, Dr. Gottlieb’s talk drew from the research of William James’ writings in the 1890s on “empirical selves,” Erik Erikson’s concepts of “identity crisis and identity formation” and Kenneth Gergen’s critique of Erikson’s belief in a stable identity.

Offering a definition of “identity” as “who you are,” as opposed to New York Times’ ethicist Kwame Anthony Appiah’s definition of “what you are,” Dr. Gottlieb demonstrated how unprecedented tensions within the realm of authenticity and individuality have arisen, with a particular focus on the effect of digital media and our phones (“a portal that is ever-beckoning”) on one’s ability to fully be in one place at one time.

Sharing research on loneliness, civic engagement, happiness and friendship, Dr. Gottlieb encouraged the audience to maximize offline time in a meaningful way and utilize the resources and camaraderie of religious communities to counter the social disconnection caused by our connected devices.

Dr. Eli Gottlieb
Dr. Eli Gottlieb