Digital Citizenship as Identity-formation
A few weeks ago, presaging (if not precipitating) my own entry into the blogosphere, I read a paper by Siles (2012) entitled “Web Technologies of the Self: The Arising of the “Blogger” Identity.” This article examines the emergence of online diarists and bloggers in the late 1990s through the lens of Foucauldian “technologies of the self” by considering the role of websites as artifacts in the process of self-formation online.
According to this author, a blog is a place where
"random observations, selected links, and extended diatribes resolve into **a mosaic revealing personality, a self...** It is the writer's unique fusion of interests, enthusiasms, and prejudices---her personality---that makes a weblog compelling" (Blood, 2002a)
There used to be a clear distinction between bloggers and online diarists that has all but disappeared today. Originally, “weblogs” (or, after 1999, “blogs”) were just curated lists of hyperlinks, often updated regularly—appended with helpful annotations, recommendations, and reviews—and in reverse chronological order, with the newest content appearing at the top. Since their genesis, and particularly in their earlier instantiations, they appealed more to tech-savvy individuals who wanted a digital display-case for their favorite websites and geek-links, and while this is clearly a more exteriority-oriented activity than the more inward-looking act of authoring a diary, interviews by Siles (2012) revealed a common purpose. These are both places to “respond to”, “comment on”, or “intervene in” daily life, places for introspection, places where we can gain a new understanding of ourselves by divulging our inner world to others. Through these public, self-relevatory disclosures, we ourselves can be transformed.
Blogs, and to a lesser extent, online diaries, function as an online embodiment of hupomnemata, a material means by which to
"capture the already-said, to collect what one has managed to hear or read, and for a purpose that is nothing less than the shaping of the self"" (Foucault, 1997, p. 211).
This is my foremost motivation, the fons et origo, for blogging here. My hope is that, in telling some other (a generalized, inclusive “other”) who I am, I’ll wind up telling myself who I am, and maybe then I’ll try to act as though I am who I say I am.
"Speaking aloud, as every lecturer knows, often reveals implications (and particularly problems) in one's own message that elude one when one engages in silent soliloquy" (Dennett, 1993).
Because lately, who I am is socially inert. Complaisant by nature, recently married, and voluntarily friendless, there really isn’t anyone left for me to try to impress. And neither is this some new development: to find any attempts on my part to impress, or to cultivate an “impressive” persona, you’d have to look as far back as high school. And though it must have given me an edge in the mate choice department 6 years ago (my choice chose me, and it’s been perfect togetherness ever since), my need-to-impress has all but atrophied from disuse. Because why bother? I’m set.
Well, it’s taken some time, but I’ve come to realize that this attitude is no good. Like it or not
"[As human begins], our fundamental tactic of self-protection, self-control, and self-definition is not spinning webs or building dams, but telling stories, and more particularly concocting and controlling the story we tell others---and ourselves---about who we are... Our tales are spun, but for the most part we don't spin them; they spin us. Our human consciousness, and our narrative selfhood, is their product, not their source... These strings or streams of narrative issue forth as if from a single source...their effect on any audience is to encourage them to (try to) posit a unified agent whose words they are, about whom they are" (Dennett 1993).
I’m going to use this blog to get to know myself better; sure, it sounds like a lot of cheese, but in time I’ll be able to look at the running list of bunk I’ve posted and what I’ll see is a glorious constellation of my own features, features that my very personhood comprises (at least, that’s the hope). Going forward, in an effort to impress the collective You (and no one in particular), I am going to start taking a little more pride in my appearance. At long last I have an audience, however illusory, for which to perform.
Another way of looking at it is, that if I keep this up, I will be able to look back and see how, in each post, I have embedded fundamental aspects of my identity-at-the-time. When we write, the millions of experiences we’ve had since birth are brought to bear on the writing process, and so** the author leaves a residue**. Roswell and Pahl (2007) call this phenomenon “sedimented identities in texts.” If you accept the materialist premise of no souls, no homonculi, no ghosts in the machine, etc., then eventually you must acknowledge that
"[Identities] are artifacts of the social processes that create us, and, like other such artifacts, subject to sudden shifts in status. The only "momentum" that accrues to the trajectory of a self is the stability imparted to it by the web of beliefs that constitute it, and when those beliefs lapse, it lapses, either permanently or temporarily (Dennet, 1993)
- Dennett, D. C. (1993). Consciousness Explained. Penguin Adult.
Rowsell, J., & Pahl, K. (2007). Sedimented Identities in Texts: Instances of Practice. Reading Research Quarterly, 42(3), 388–404.
Siles, I. (2012). Web Technologies of the Self: The Arising of the “Blogger” Identity. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 17(4), 408–421. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2012.01581.x