ABOUT ME, FAVORITE BOOKS, FAVORITE MOVIES, FAVORITE MUSIC, QUOTES, PROFILE PICTURE: these are the beams and drywall of your constructed self for sale. Surely, anyone who has made their way to this site has completed these questions at least once (and likely many times) in the past few years -- and, besides, has returned to update his or her responses.
Perhaps you regretted an addition or omission and returned immediately thereafter. Are you quick to answer, or do you mull over each list? Whether you seize on the nonchalance of the Slapdash Self or prefer the Serious, Sensitive Self, the decision is one we all make: how do I market "Me"(tm)?
In this multi-part series, I seek to investigate the ramifications of our contemporary network society on our individual and personal formation, as well as how this translates to how we understand and form "community" -- in both its topic and u-topic forms (that is to say, the place-bound and the non-place-bound). While I participate in and have been known to champion the exponential possibilities these new fronteirs offer, as in any tech-based definition of "progress" I present a moment of pause, in which we have the possibility to become active rather than passive participants, utilizing rather than being swept up in the wave.
We have long watched as the increased mobility and "independence" allotted us by technological innovation has created an ever increasingly alienating environment, that beyond our cities leaves us isolated, nodal, and connected more than ever via the internet rather than on the ground. The excellent Bowling Alone addressed this issue back in 2000 -- suggesting a starving, cracked earth of lonesome individuals, just waiting for the salve of "connection" the coming Age of You would seem to offer. But at what cost? Forget "bowling alone," if you're doing it at all it's probably on Wii and you didn't even bother going to the alley. Now one is never, and almost always, alone -- simultaneously.
In no way do I mean to suggest that this is entirely negative: here I am, planting yet another seed amidst the already-overgrown fields of "user-generated-content" endemic to this seismic Self-ism. Both Time Magazine and the NYTimes notably pinged this shift as 2006 came to a close, with Time proclaiming that the person of the year was "You" and the grey lady proclaiming that 2006 was "brought to you by you." Of course, 2007 continued to be brought to you by you, me, and everybody we know (with nods to Ms July), and 2008 shows no signs of slowing. I am energized and thrilled by the possibilities of microlending and other such innovative strategies that have sprung up around the new modes of communication and connection, and see no ceiling for their successes.
On the other hand, as we are watching eco-activism become conflated with greenbacks in the absurd market flooding of "eco-products"(stay tuned for another article on this, from a paper I presented last year), or if we recall the failed populist promise self-help salvation in the urban/planning section (go, read "Planet of Slums") we should register no shock that this other bottom-up movement is not always operating in the interest of those generating and/or reading this content, participating in its forums and/or social services, et cetera. Once enormous capital is pouring in, and major news sources are shouting it from the rooftops, one would do well to take heed in the ways in which we are participating in the changes taking place -- in both the positive and negative ways... For once someone's hand is in the pot, taking of the soup, naming the soup, stirring the soup and controlling its ladle, it doesn't really matter how fresh your herbs are. (Take that metaphor, and eat it.)
No, but seriously. I think we have the possibility to slowly, consciously shift how these movements effect our lives both personally and at large, simply by taking stock of our own personal usage and how it is changing both our thoughts and actions.
In this first piece, I start at the micro, YOU. Not only "you" this you of tube, that larger than life you, but in fact, you, infinitesimal being. As usual, I am concerned with language and the self -- for at the individual, operating level of these large-scale shifts and their societal implications are incremental changes in how we individually operate, see ourselves, and how we are in the world. How do we know who and what we are, and what power we have?
A fascinating factor of this moment is that, in fact, we are writing ourselves at all -- as I've said in the byline, if one considers this act, it is quite new for the average individual to make fixed and publicly available a written version of oneself, which was previously only done for professional reasons and for the personal ads -- another previously unexplored realm to the average individual, in comparison to the rampant online dating industry and its seemingly endless iterations.
But now, we create and "fix" ourselves, and operate even when we are physically not "online" via what I will refer to broadly as our Avatars (even when technically this is not always the medium, including Profiles and other such Description-Generators).
We choose images, shoot our best angles on our webcams, edit out negative content, promote our projects, advertise our relationship status (most of us now have personal history with an online "out-ing" of a break up, engagement, or complicated moment in our lives or our friends'), and so forth -- our friendships and their ebbs and flows are visible for all to see, we are self-deprecating enough so that we don't appear snobbish or self-involved, we include pictures with others in social situations to not seem like a loner, we include our pets or family, advertise our physical activity and/or party lifestyle... we sell ourselves.
But just as in when we engage in therapy or overly discuss any aspects of our lives, what part of natural experience are we losing/permanently threatening via this thrillist, rabid need to document and present our"selves"? How much does this limit and or eliminate certain shifts in our environments, lives, opinions, and self-consideration, and how we perform and operate either alone or with others?
On the other hand, how can our new engagement with a constant questioning of who we "are" and how we present ourselves be an outlet for exploration, possibility, and growth, both individually and interpersonally?
In Part II of the series, I will tackle that beast that is the "community": Social (MyFace, Spacebook), the more professional (Kazaa, LinkdIn), and the imaginary/surreal (Second Life and MMORPG -- "Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games").