Digital Cultures

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Online Identities and Representation: Configuring the Cyberself

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Digital Cultures

  1. 1. Online Identites and Representation: Configuring the Cyberself Venetia Robertson Week Nine
  2. 2. The Parlor
  3. 3. Configuring the Cyberself KEYPOINTS: <ul><li>Identity in Theory - how the self is socially constructed, perceived and represented </li></ul><ul><li>The Cyberself - how is it represented and what challenges are posed by modernity / postmodernity and the online environment </li></ul><ul><li>Practical Examples - identity displayed via personal homepages, digital footprints, virtual worlds, and avatars. </li></ul>
  4. 4. <ul><li>“ All the world ’s a stage </li></ul><ul><li>And all the men and women merely players. </li></ul><ul><li>They have their exits and their entrances; </li></ul><ul><li>And one man in his time plays many parts.” </li></ul><ul><li>- Shakespeare, As You Like It </li></ul>
  5. 5. Goffman and the Dramaturgical Model of Self Representation <ul><li>Erving Goffman, sociologist, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, (1956) </li></ul><ul><li>Wrote significant analyses of the concept of the self - how we communicate in person, represent ourselves, and interpret the representations of others through “symbolic interaction” </li></ul><ul><li>Coined the phrase “dramaturgical perspective” and brought into popular usage the analogy of theatrical dynamics and social encounters </li></ul><ul><li>For example, borrowing from Shakespeare, the world is our stage. We are all actors. We don metaphorical masks, perform our role and develop our character on both the front (public) stage and the back (private) stage </li></ul><ul><li>We analyse social encounters through certain “frames” which inform our actions, words, gestures etc. </li></ul>
  6. 6. Giddens, the Modern Project of the Self, and it’s Dilemmas <ul><li>Anthony Giddens, sociologist, author of Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (1991) </li></ul><ul><li>Describes the contemporary world as “post-traditional” </li></ul><ul><li>Globalisation, cultural expropriation, constant mediation, capitalism and commodification have made the signs of identity ambiguous </li></ul><ul><li>Self-identity is no longer inherent nor dictated. It has become a reflexive and continuous project </li></ul><ul><li>Hence creating “dilemmas of the self”: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Unification vs. Fragmentation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Powerlessness vs. Appropriation </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Authority vs. Uncertainty </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Personalised vs. Commodified Experience </li></ul></ul>
  7. 7. Baudrillard, the postmodern condition, and the Hyperreal <ul><li>Jean Baudrillard, post-structuralist philosopher, Simulacra and Simulation, (1985) </li></ul><ul><li>Contemporary society uses a symbolic system of signs or images to communicate and represent ‘the real’ </li></ul><ul><li>These images have four successive phases: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Once, the image was a reflection of a profound reality </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Then, it came to mask a profound reality </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Next, it masks the absence of a profound reality </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Finally, it has no relation to the initial reality, it only simulates it. It has become a pure simulacrum, replacing the real. </li></ul></ul><ul><li>This condition is called the “hyperreal” - where reality and fantasy have melded inseparably </li></ul><ul><li>For Baudrillard, the postmodern state is typified by this slippage. </li></ul>
  8. 8. So, <ul><li>Identity in Theory has many facets: the behavioural, the social, the cultural, the commodified, the fantastical, the artificial. </li></ul><ul><li>How have these modes of self-representation appeared in the online environment? </li></ul><ul><li>What are the challenges to self-representation in cyberspace? </li></ul><ul><li>Let’s look at the readings… </li></ul>
  9. 9. Charles Cheung, ‘Identity Construction and Self Presentation on Personal Homepages: Emancipatory Potentials and Reality Constraints’ Web Studies , (2004 ) <ul><li>Question: How can identity be represented online? </li></ul><ul><li>Personal Homepages can be an “emancipatory media genre” by allowing users to become “active cultural producers, expressing their suppressed identities or exploring the significant question of “wh o I am”, often in ways which may not otherwise be possible in ‘real’ life.” </li></ul><ul><li>They allow for a more “strategic self-representation” than in regular daily interactions, we have more control over our projected self </li></ul><ul><li>For some, homepage are an extension of a stable identity - a representation . For others, a mode of constructing an identity. </li></ul><ul><li>People who have unstable or stigmatised identities might use the net as an opportunity to create a new, ‘better’ self </li></ul>
  10. 10. Charles Cheung, ‘Identity Construction and Self Presentation on Personal Homepages’ <ul><li>How can identity be represented online cont’d… </li></ul><ul><li>They are globally and instantly accessible. The audience can be vast and unknown and they can often comment on or reference your website - “getting recognition from other people is still important for establishing affirmative identities” </li></ul><ul><li>Personal pages can have professional purposes, be used for dating, giving information, expressing an otherwise introverted self, socially communicating, documenting thoughts and ideas. </li></ul><ul><li>Personal pages create a self-narrative , they are part of the reflexive project of the self </li></ul>
  11. 11. Charles Cheung, ‘Identity Construction and Self Presentation on Personal Homepages’ <ul><li>Question: How is the representation of self challenged by the online context? </li></ul><ul><li>Many homepages are poor in content and are soon abandoned by their creators. They have a short life span. </li></ul><ul><li>The emancipatory potential is limited, maybe not fully exploited. </li></ul><ul><li>Page providers enforce regulations that might censor content or shut down offensive or “harmful” websites </li></ul><ul><li>John Killoran: Commercial and bureaucratic organisations have “colonised the speaking spaces”, and so when individuals use commodified ideologies or images to represent themselves they suppress creativity in favour of conformity </li></ul>
  12. 12. EXAMPLE: Representation via Facebook <ul><li>Facebook as a medium: a reflexive project or a vanity project? Hence the nickname, “MyFace” </li></ul><ul><li>A social network, a marketing scam or a way to spy on people? i.e. “StalkBook” </li></ul><ul><li>A stage that projects a strategic self, not a genuine self? Can we still “give off” information subconsciously through our websites? How can assess the information provided? </li></ul><ul><li>My Facebook: Identity Data? </li></ul><ul><li>• sex, D.O.B., partner, hometown • 237 photos • 220 friends • Graffiti Wall </li></ul><ul><li>• favourite movies, tv shows, books ( Amelie, Black Books, The Odyssey ) </li></ul><ul><li>• 8 albums (holidays, parties, events, friends) - 2 Causes (breast cancer, gay marriage) </li></ul><ul><li>• groups (‘Friends Don’t Let Friends Vote Liberal’, ‘Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster’, ‘I judge you when you use poor grammar.’) </li></ul><ul><li>• novelty applications (Tasteful Religious Gifts, Shite Academic Gifts) </li></ul>
  13. 13. <ul><li>Shanahan, courtesy of Michael </li></ul>
  14. 14. My digital identity
  15. 15. DISCUSSION: What is your Online Identity? <ul><li>How has your homepage or your digital footprint acted as stage for which you can communicate your self to others? </li></ul><ul><li>Have you created a self-narrative in the online world? </li></ul><ul><li>Does your cyber self appear fragmented or stable? </li></ul><ul><li>Is it an honest representation? A form of escapism? Or a distinct part of your personality? </li></ul><ul><li>Is it private or public? How protective of your online profile are you? How seriously do you want others to take it? </li></ul><ul><li>Do you feel as though the dilemmas posited by Giddens have challenged the way you represent your self online? </li></ul>
  16. 16. - Oscar Wilde, Intentions <ul><li>“ Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” </li></ul>
  17. 17. Sherry Turkle, ‘Who Am We?’, Life on the Screen, (1995) <ul><li>Question: How can identity be represented online? </li></ul><ul><li>We are (in the mid 90s) moving from “ a modernist culture of calculation towards a postmodernist culture of simulation” </li></ul><ul><li>The screen has become the new location for our fantasies, with “windows” as a metaphor for the self as a multiple, distributed system . </li></ul><ul><li>The anonymity of MUDs allow one to create an entirely new avatar, and play many roles simultaneously. </li></ul><ul><li>Online games give us an opportunity to live a second life and create our own dramas, for example, having an extramarital cyber-affair, playing a character of the opposite gender </li></ul><ul><li>This can allow an exploration of the aspects of the self, sometimes resulting in self discovery , even transformation </li></ul>
  18. 18. Sherry Turkle, ‘Who Am We?’ <ul><li>Question: How is the representation of self challenged by the online context? </li></ul><ul><li>MUDs pose many psychological questions, for example, “if a persona in an RPG drops defenses that the player in real life has been unable to abandon, what effect does this have?” </li></ul><ul><li>Slippages can occur when persona and self merge, and the multiple identites become conflated into an idea of the “authentic” self. </li></ul><ul><li>We are vulnerable, and personality fragmentation can be dangerous - “people can get lost in virtual worlds” </li></ul><ul><li>“ Without a deep understanding of the many selves that we express in the virtual, we cannot use our experiences there to enrich the real.” </li></ul>
  19. 19. <ul><li>avatar |ˈavəˌtär| </li></ul><ul><li>noun ORIGIN: from Sanskrit avat ā ra - ‘descent’, ‘to cross over’ </li></ul><ul><li># A manifestation of a deity </li></ul><ul><li>or released soul in bodily form on earth </li></ul><ul><li># An incarnation, embodiment, </li></ul><ul><li>or manifestation of a person or idea </li></ul><ul><li># An icon representing a person in </li></ul><ul><li>cyberspace or virtual reality graphics. </li></ul>
  20. 20. EXAMPLE: Embodying the Avatar: the self in virtual reality <ul><li>Julian Dibbell, “A Rape in Cyberspace”, Flame Wars, (1994) </li></ul><ul><li>In LambdaMOO, an object-oriented MUD, one character called Mr. Bungle used a voodoo doll program to sexually harrass, abuse and rape other avatars in the game. </li></ul><ul><li>The emotional response of the victims makes sense only in the “buzzing, dissonant gap” between RL and VL </li></ul><ul><li>A slippage between ‘avatar’ and ‘authentic self’? A case of hyperreal sensitivity? </li></ul><ul><li>“ P e rched on a tightwire between the reasoned deliberation of text and the emotional immediacy of conversation, online communication sets itself up for a fall that is constantly realised” </li></ul>
  21. 21. <ul><li>“ The virtual is opposed not to the real but to the actual.” </li></ul><ul><li>- Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition </li></ul>
  22. 22. Robbie Cooper, Alter Ego: Avatars and their Creators, (2007) <ul><li>Cooper has photographed a series of gamers with the avatars or “alter egos” </li></ul><ul><li>These photos demonstrate a range of relationships between player and persona </li></ul><ul><li>Shows how people choose to gender bend, change race, design avatars that physically represent themselves, make themselves look like their characters, adopt a new body shape, a new sense of style </li></ul><ul><li>They frequently assign themselves superhuman abilities that can be self-serving or altruistic. Allows them to function in a strategy and team-oriented game, or to boost their personal reputation within a virtual world </li></ul><ul><li>Today’s games use sophisticated and realistic graphics with multiple options for designing the physique and characteristics of avatars </li></ul><ul><li>Julian Dibbel: “Be tween the utopian and the realist notions of online identity lies something both less liberating and less oppressive, both more social and more playful and ultimately as real as its gets.” </li></ul>
  23. 23. NAME Choi Seang Rak BORN 1971 OCCUPATION Academic LOCATION Seoul, South Korea AVATAR NAME Uroo Ahs AVATAR CREATED 2004 GAME PLAYED Lineage II HOURS PER WEEK IN-GAME 8 CHARACTER TYPE Dwarf Warsmith SPECIAL ABILITIES Craft siege weapons, whirlwind in battle
  24. 24. NAME Jean-François de la Fage BORN 1979 OCCUPATION Journalist LOCATION Paris AVATAR NAME Dark Freeman AVATAR CREATED 2005 GAME PLAYED City of Heroes HOURS PER WEEK IN-GAME 21 CHARACTER TYPE Natural hero SPECIAL ABILITIES Invincibility
  25. 25. NAME Kimberly Rufer-Bach BORN 1966 OCCUPATION Software developer LOCATION Clarksville, Tenn. AVATAR NAME Kim Anubis AVATAR CREATED 2004 GAME PLAYED Second Life HOURS PER WEEK IN-GAME 70 CHARACTER TYPE Content creator SPECIAL ABILITIES Building interactive objects
  26. 26. NAME Charmaine Hance BORN 1978 OCCUPATION Housewife LOCATION Ashford, England AVATAR NAME Jova Song AVATAR CREATED 2003 GAME PLAYED Second Life HOURS PER WEEK IN-GAME 6 CHARACTER TYPE Human female SPECIAL ABILITIES Builder
  27. 27. NAME Lucas Shaw BORN 1985 OCCUPATION Student LOCATION Texas AVATAR NAME Gaenank AVATAR CREATED 2003 GAME PLAYED EverQuest HOURS PER WEEK IN-GAME 55 CHARACTER TYPE Barbarian berserker SPECIAL ABILITIES Dual wield
  28. 28. NAME John Palmer BORN 1962 OCCUPATION I.T. consultant LOCATION Dorset, England AVATAR NAME Zafu Diamond AVATAR CREATED 2005 GAME PLAYED Second Life HOURS PER WEEK IN-GAME 20 CHARACTER TYPE Buddhist monk SPECIAL ABILITIES Power hugs, ultimate wisdom
  29. 29. NAME Jason Rowe BORN 1974 OCCUPATION None LOCATION Crosby, Tex. AVATAR NAME Rurouni Kenshin AVATAR CREATED 2003 GAME PLAYED Star Wars Galaxies HOURS PER WEEK IN-GAME 80 CHARACTER TYPE Human marksman, rifleman SPECIAL ABILITIES Ranged weapon specialization
  30. 30. NAME Rebecca Glasure BORN 1979 OCCUPATION Housewife LOCATION Redding, Calif. AVATAR NAME Stygian Physic AVATAR CREATED 2005 GAME PLAYED City of Heroes HOURS PER WEEK IN-GAME 25 to 30 CHARACTER TYPE Human mutant SPECIAL ABILITIES Healing and dark-energy manipulation
  31. 31. PRACTICAL EXAMPLE: Avatars : Body and Soul? <ul><li>The SoulBonder movement consists of people who claim to believe that they share a soul-bond with fictional characters - either made up by themselves, or “outsourced ” from an already existing movie, book, comic or computer game </li></ul><ul><li>SoulBonding culture takes “embodiment of the avatar” to a new level. In a sense, these avatars “complete” the individual. </li></ul><ul><li>You can have several SoulBonds, assumedly from different sources. Some are separate beings who have a strong relationship. Some can allow the ‘Bonds to “front”, or take over and control the body and mind. Some ‘Bonds even write their own blogs! </li></ul><ul><li>It has its roots in Role Playing Games and fiction writing </li></ul><ul><li>As both a spiritual and cultural movement SoulBonding has been affiliated with Furry Fandom, Therianthropes, Otherkin and particularly Ota’kin, who are people who have an empathic connection with anime / manga characters </li></ul><ul><li>Psychologically, it has been connected to Multiplicity / Plurality (having several personae sharing one body harmoniously), Multiple Personality Disorder and Schizophrenia </li></ul>
  32. 32. DISCUSSION: What does this culture tell us about the cyberself? <ul><li>The SoulBonding community began on the internet, and has attracted attention and abuse. How has the nature of the internet allowed for the development of this identity-bending ideology? </li></ul><ul><li>Are these avatars manifestations of an individual identity? Multiple identities? Inventing and/or adopting a new persona? </li></ul><ul><li>How is the use of avatars or bonding with avatars different from forming an attachment to another form of online identity, eg. a blog, a homepage or profile? </li></ul><ul><li>Does the internet and interactive gaming culture provide an emancipatory method for self expression and realisation? Or does it encourage escapism to a dangerous degree? </li></ul>
  33. 33. <ul><li>Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces </li></ul><ul><li>“ We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.” </li></ul>

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