Developing a Digital Identity – Erikson Gets an Upgrade

Posted by: Dawn Schell on May 27, 2014 3:30 pm

I remember my first encounter with a personal computer.   It was 1984 and the professor I was working for had acquired a Mac.  One of my job requirements was learning how to use it.   At that point I had barely learned how to use an electronic typewriter and struggled with getting my assignments done on the university mainframe computer.

My professor sat me down in front of the computer and asked me a very important question.   “What are you most afraid will happen?”   I knew my answer was silly but I couldn’t help believing it might just be true.

“I’m afraid it will explode and you will lose everything.”

Thankfully he didn’t laugh.   He assured me there would not be an explosion and then, patiently, led me step by step through the process of learning how to use the technology.

At the recent International Association for Counselling Conference I attended a session by Jody Rempel on “Developing an integrated digital sense of self”.  Jody Rempel and Dr. Paul Jerry of Athabasca University did something quite brilliant.  They took Erikson’s 8 stages of psychosocial development and applied it to our adoption of technology.

As I reflected on the 8 stages I was reminded of that first encounter with a Mac.  And with every technological change I have gone through since then!  It goes across the generations too.  Yesterday, a grade 9 student told me “my computer hates me”.

Here’s a quick summary of the stages as it relates to adopting technology.

Trust vs. Mistrust
Can I trust technology to work?

Autonomy vs. Shame & Doubt
Can I use this technology without help?

Initiative vs. Guilt
Is it okay to use this technology as much as I would like to?

Industry vs. Inferiority
Can I use technology to help me achieve my goals?

Identity vs. Role confusion
Who am I and what can I be with this technology?

Intimacy vs. Isolation
Do I like the role that technology plays in my life?

Generativity vs. Stagnation
How can I help other people develop their use of technology?

Integrity vs. Despair
Have I used technology to better my life in a way congruent with my goals and values? [1]

I can see a number of ways in which this stage approach will be useful to me in terms of working with both clients and counsellors who are just starting out with online counselling.   It’s a handy framework.   Try it out for yourself and see what stage you are at!


Dawn M. Schell, MA, CCC, CCDP is an affiliate of Worldwide Therapy Online Inc.


[1] Full credit to Rempel and Jerry for this adaptation and any errors are mine.


*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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