What is self monitoring?
We all take on the burden of self monitoring. Self monitoring is based on caring about how you present yourself to others.
Self-monitoring is a concept introduced during the 1970s by Mark Snyder, that shows how much people monitor their self-presentations, expressive behavior, and nonverbal affective displays.
The saying goes, "there is a time and a place for everything". Self monitoring is about displaying the appropriate self-presentations at the appropriate time and place. In order to always display the appropriate behavior at the right time and place requires developing the skill of self monitoring. We do not all equally have these skills according to sociologists and some humans are better at it than others.
The quote below highlights this accurately:
Self-monitors try to understand how individuals and groups will perceive their actions. Some personality types commonly act spontaneously (low self-monitors) and others are more apt to purposely control and consciously adjust their behavior (high self-monitors). Recent studies suggest that a distinction should be made between acquisitive and protective self-monitoring due to their different interactions with metatraits. This differentiates the motive behind self-monitoring behaviours: for the purpose of acquiring appraisal from others (acquisitive) or protecting oneself from social disapproval (protective).
This ties into morality, honor, shame, and other concepts. To discuss morality, if we define being perceived as "doing the right thing" as accurately predicting how others will respond to a chosen behavior and adjusting behavior to either being motivated to acquire appraisal or to avoid social disapproval, then we can see the role self monitoring plays in morality. The ability or skill of self monitoring is how you can consistently choose the appropriate behaviors to display at the appropriate times in order to win approval and avoid disapproval.
Morality as a means of winning approval and avoiding disapproval
This leads to the question of whether morality is an effective means of winning approval whilst avoiding disapproval. I think there is a strong likelihood that morality functions and evolves specifically to allow an individual to achieve approval and avoid disapproval. Starting with childhood where a child may seek the approval of their parents and seek to avoid the disapproval of their parents. This seeking approval and avoiding disapproval in my opinion is the guiding force or moral compass of morality. It may not always be parents that an individual is seeking the approval of or avoiding the disapproval of but there is for most people some person(s) or group whom approval is continuously seeked and disapproval continuously avoided.
In other words, this mechanism is the restraint against bad behavior. The individual may wonder what their parents would think of them if they did X, or how they'll be perceived by group A if they choose Y, and this internal dialog is what creates moral behavior. It is self enforcing because everyone who values the opinion of someone else, who seeks the approval or to avoid the disapproval of someone else, is going to adopt behaviors which they think look impressive to that someone else.
In dramaturgical sociology it is argued that the elements of human interactions are dependent upon time, place, and audience. In other words, to Goffman, the self is a sense of who one is, a dramatic effect emerging from the immediate scene being presented
A dramaturgical action is a social action that is designed to be seen by others and to improve one's public self-image. In addition to Erving Goffman, this concept has been used by Jürgen Habermas and Harold Garfinkel, among others.
Dramaturgical actions are any social actions which make the individual do-er look good to others. So now to provide the clear definition of social action:
In sociology, social action, also known as "Weberian social action", refers to an act which takes into account the actions and reactions of individuals (or 'agents'). According to Max Weber, "an Action is 'social' if the acting individual takes account of the behavior of others and is thereby oriented in its course".
As we can see by this definition, to be perceived as moral if being moral is "doing the right thing" is to do the action which most people will think is right or to be specific, the people you're trying to impress will think is right. Social action specifically is an act which takes into account the actions and reactions of individuals (also called agents). Any moral action under the principle of "do the right thing" must take into account at all times what certain individuals perceive of as the "right thing" for any circumstance. Doing the wrong thing in a circumstance is going to be perceived as an immoral act, and an immoral act could result in social disapproval. Doing the "right thing" on the other hand is perceived as heroic by certain individuals and is rewarded by social approval.
Operant conditioning and morality?
As we can see now there is a level of reinforcement going on. There are rewards for behaviors (social approval) and punishment for behaviors (social disapproval). Human beings are conditioned to seek as much social approval as possible while avoiding as much social disapproval as possible. We call this conditioning "morality" and we call socially approved behavior "doing the right thing" or in other words the correct social action in the minds of the people who matter to the individual (the people the individual seeks to obtain social approval from).
Society rewards the "good behavior" by labeling all who adopt these behavior as "good kids" or "good boys and girls" or "good persons". Society punishes the "bad behavior" by labeling all who adopt these behavior as "bad kids" or "bad girls and boys" or "bad persons". Good and bad are value judgments which come from society both from a top down and bottom up manner. The top down manner would come from the Justice system, courts, big media, thought leaders (experts), church, etc. The bottom up manner would come from the Crowd, vigilantes, alternative media, and thought leaders (demagogues).
Thought leaders in either context are people who a lot of other people accept as moral elders. These moral elders are sometimes college professors, sometimes Youtubers, sometimes priests, or it could be people in the criminal underworld, gangsters, hackers, social engineers, anyone with a lot of followers or an ability to manufacture public opinion. In other words, it is possible that a lot of what we see on Twitter, on Facebook, are nothing more than sock puppets being used to manipulate public opinion.
A possible prediction? Does Transparency favor those who have more self monitoring skills?
As we can know from various studies on personalities, some people are more spontaneous in behavior than other people. People who as some say, act without thinking of the consequences in terms of social approval and disapproval, are in my opinion going to be at a dramatic disadvantage in a world of increasing transparency. A spontaneous action whether it be a bad tweet or similar will only be picked apart by those searching for bad behaviors to punish. There will be no shortage of bad behaviors to punish, no shortage of vigilantes willing to punish it, because it may in fact be moral to punish bad behaviors (heroic) due to the reward (social approval) which can be won by punishing it. We already see this with "social justice", and I expect this trend in particular to continue until it is all consuming. More transparency, more information, provides more ammo, more from which to judge and rank how good or how bad each person is.
So to do the right thing is to do the rational thing. It's rational because it avoids the negative consequence (negative for people who have social goals) of social disapproval. So from the protective state of mind under social monitoring it is going to be the rational (right) thing. Under the acquisitive state of mind doing the heroic action of punishing the bad behavior is also rational and will be seen as the right thing to do. So depending on your personality you'll either favor protective or acquisitive more.
How is self monitoring ability assessed? Below these quotes reveal there are tests available:
Snyder's self monitoring scale was developed in 1974. It measures whether or not an individual has the will and ability to change how they are perceived by utilizing impression management in various social interactions. The score is based off of twenty five questions that the individual answers according to their thought process and is used to determine how an individual may manipulate nonverbal signals and adjusts theirs actions according to a situation. The score is calculated based on how the individuals responds to True and False questions.
Interesting is the quote on low self monitors because these are the people likely to suffer the most as privacy is reduced over time. The quote:
Low self-monitors tend to exhibit expressive controls congruent with their own internal states; i.e. beliefs, attitudes, and dispositions regardless of social circumstance. Low self-monitors are often less observant of social context and consider expressing a self-presentation dissimilar from their internal states as a falsehood and undesirable.
In other words, if you cannot adopt actions which do not match your internal mental state and natural disposition then you'll have a very difficult time adapting to a society which requires high level social monitoring skills in order to be perceived as a "good person". This is problematic for a lot of reasons but doing the "right thing" for a given situation may naturally come easier for some than for others.
Now let's look at the quote on high self monitors:
Individuals who closely monitor themselves are categorized as high self-monitors. They often behave in a manner that is highly responsive to social cues and their situational context. High self-monitors can be thought of as social pragmatists who project images in an attempt to impress others and receive positive feedback. In comparison to low self-monitors, high self monitors participate in more expressive control and have concern for situational appropriateness. As these individuals are willing to adjust their behavior, others may perceive them to be more receptive, pleasant, and benevolent towards them.
Pragmatists are favored or in specific "social pragmatists". The ability to set your own internal mental states to the side and do the "right thing" and "appropriate behaviors" for the situation. This is something which requires years of training and is not something people are born knowing how to do. Self monitoring is a skill and it seems to be connected with the ability to read social cues and learn situational context.
If you are pragmatic, a consequentialist, and are very skilled at self monitoring, you may do well in a transparent society. You will simply do what is in your self interest which is simply to avoid punishment and seek rewards. On the other hand if you're an idealist, if you refuse to be "fake" (adopt a behavior which doesn't match your mental state), are not so pragmatic, believe certain things are just wrong because they feel wrong, or right because they feel right, and are not so good at self monitoring, then you may have some problems in a world where every action is to be a social action (must account for how others think about it). Being "fake" may in fact be a requirement for being perceived as "good" if "good" is defined as doing the "right thing".