Courtesy of Sully646I’ve looked at customisation and personalisation in a marketing context before, and I mentioned Coke’s customised named bottles and Starbucks’ habit of writing your name on the cup. Brands appreciate that with identity comes a sense of belonging, of ownership; and that’s why customisation is such an appealing marketing tool.

We are, however, becoming ever more visible players in our own stories. Sure, in the case of Starbucks, as well as marketing, the act of writing names down each day also helps your barista remember you. It generates genuinely improved service. Equally, however, there is ample evidence that the Millennial generation is so saturated with marketing of limited value that personalisation is a weak sop to human validation, a replacement for more meaningful recognition of identity at a time when the narratives of our lives are all too visible.

For better or worse, our identities are everywhere, and never more so than digitally. If you’re a user of any of the major social networks (and most of the Western world of working age is: one in seven people is now on Facebook), you’ll see your identity plastered everywhere. If a friend tags you in a status update, photo or article, you’re not only engaged in the tag, you’re a part of the story itself.

Or maybe you use a fitness or diet tracker app? Not only do apps like Runkeeper and Strava record your data and plot out where you’ve been on a map — they also let you become part of a bigger story. As I write, through Runkeeper you can join their virtual “April 10k challenge” and receive an equally virtual, shareable medal.

The issues we should at least be aware of include the rise of narcissism, but also a broader concept being dubbed ‘digiphrenia’ whereby the fragments of our identities are spread across multiple online networks. As the redacted narrative of our online lives is amplified by the natural urge to compare ourselves to others, and our ‘My story’ impinges on the physical world, so many people are suffering a sense of disconnection and loneliness.

The digital experiences we have every day that make us part of ‘the story’ also have the potential to alienate us from being present in the moment. This isn’t just a case of obsessively recording what’s happening around us on cameraphones (never to actually revisit those photos in any meaningful way), it is also the problem of chasing after and evaluating what has already happened instead of enjoying or immersing ourselves in whatever is going on now.

Particularly among smart millenials and late Generation-Zs, a rebellion is beginning; called the “Slow” and “digital detox” movement:

“Digital detox refers to a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic connecting devices such as smartphones and computers. It is regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world.”

Digital Detox Holidays has reported a five-fold increase in people booking holidays over a six month period. I can’t tell you what it means for the future of humanity, but it’s clear that demand for opportunities to unplug is increasing, and there is a need for environments to make it possible; indeed some restaurants are enforcing a no-phone policy to allow people to reconnect with each other.

One thing’s for sure. As technologies like Virtual Reality continue to grow, we are approaching a crossroads on self-identity and mental health in the digital age. Smartphones have only been an introduction to the benefits and threats of digital life.