Personal Networks and Identity – Writing Prompt

Friends sitting around a table working on a project

The theme for this year’s Sydney University Anthology is ‘Networks’, which students, staff and alumni are encouraged to interpret in unique and creative ways. We have previously shared writing prompts that delved into some less common kinds of networks that might get you thinking outside the box. If you’re looking for something different to spark your creativity, let’s think about some types of social networks and how they might affect our sense of self-identity.

It’s a small world

The term networking has been co-opted in recent times for professional or business use, describing the process of building relationships with colleagues and other professional contacts. This is helpful for mentoring opportunities, job-seeking and gaining career advice from a more experienced perspective. But we have personal networks too, made up of family, friends and acquaintances, who we might fall in and out of touch with. Sometimes these personal networks extend farther than we realise, when we go on a holiday or start a new job and come across someone we know or have met before.

They say a stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet. We often have more in common than we expect: it’s not difficult to meet someone for the first time and find commonalities, even across age, nation and language boundaries. Maybe it’s a shared hometown, favourite sport, beloved book or mutual friend. It feels as though we live in a small world, where everyone is connected in one way or another.

Think about the kinds of personal networks you’ve seen and experienced in your life. Have they brought about any unlikely coincidences or once-in-a-lifetime opportunities? With the increasing amount of personal information we share online with each other and internet algorithms, is it possible we will all be a part of one expansive network in the future?

Networks shape our identity

We might find ourselves acting differently in the company of different people. For example, in an academic or professional environment, we might communicate very differently to the more relaxed, casual conversation we have with friends. Likewise, there might be things we share with our friends that we wouldn’t share with members of our family.

Switching between these modes of presentation can bring its own set of challenges, where we experience pressure to perform our identity differently across our personal networks. This kind of presentation becomes even more complex if our networks are intertwined, and people within our different circles also know each other. Who does that make us if we are, in a sense, “different people” to those that we know in our various networks? Is our identity dependent on who we’re speaking to? If everyone performs their identity differently within each of their own networks, do we really know who our family, friends and acquaintances are?

These are some ideas that might get you thinking about the concept of ‘Networks’. How else do different kinds of networks affect our lives and our realities?

The anthology team looks forward to reading your submissions and can’t wait to see the creativity, originality and skill of the USYD network! Submit your work here.