I have read this chapter from Helmund and admit to having had a massive resistance to it at first. It was a struggle. Helmund’s focus and interest seems to be the relationship between
- Individual and network
- Software and media
- Self and identity construction/ownership of…
The chapter takes us on a brief chronological resume of the development of these issues since the inception and early uses of personal spaces on the web.
Helmund describes the original genesis of the issue as having been the relationship between the individual and the network- early on (in the late 80s and early 90s), much personal space on the web manifested anonymously- for example, in chat rooms. Gradually, that became non-anonymous through the emergence of dating sites and social networking.
Helmund refers to Zhoa et al 2008) citing Stone (81) when she relates that it is the coincidence of Identity Anouncement (individual representation of self) and Identity Placement (location and context, web siting) that is what makes ‘identity’ in a virtual situation.
Helmund refers to Butler’s notions of ‘performative identity’ and questions this in the online context. She outlines four major arenas for online identity construction and processes:
- The Homepage- back in the day. This was a slightly exclusive domain, requiring HTML knowledge, based on the server. Chandler describes this (88) as the identity under construction in its early phases.
- The Blog arrived. Here the identity construction is not a closed performance, but is a public event, contributed to, linked to and made for other people to join and comment. The use of embedding and widgets meant that our online identities began to disperse and cross multiple online spaces. Helmund notes the critique to this is that often, the temptation to cram information into a sidebar can mean that people’s identity or site becomes unintelligable or confused and hard to access. This is a familiar theme in analysis and thinking around the uses of the web- and links to the Tyranny of Choice lecture in as much as for many people, the web provides overwhelming and unmanageable proportions of information and ‘access’ which contradict the focus and ability of those people to use the resource effectively. More is not necessarily better.
- Social Networking sites. The establishing or building of a personal ‘profile’ (which has particular connotations for me in my work with women in prison who are ‘profiled’ in ways that I believe to be highly problematic…the notion of the ‘profile’ is riddled with ideological meaning, most of which is far from ‘developmental’ in my opinion. The profile is built in these spaces with the help of ‘default’ options- how inclusive, imaginative or representative can any default setting be for the descibing of a self? Helmund refers to the development of the ‘other’ box which aleviates this problem slightly. (DM 09) Who controls, defines and administrates not only the construction of our online identities, but also, of our thinking and performance of our identities in the cyber era? This realtime possibility for storage and collation of life events, Helmund states, were the precursor to:
- Lifestreaming. “The collection of our activity…in one central location.” The word ‘diary’ appears more than once in the text, likeneing personal use of space to share and display our performed identities to the keeping of a diary- which, in my experience, was never a public, rather a private space in which to log and record events, thoughts and meaning making.
- Latest developments; Storytelr- a new package for the organisation, classification and segmentation of all our gathered life information in one place. As our ‘lives are scattered across the web’, this package aims to keep it ordered.
My reaction and responses include thoughts about the need we seem to be trained in to be able classify, signify and parcel our lives into digestible, shareable and palatable chunks for public consumption.
Why is it necessary to share information in this way? What does it mean in terms of human relationships and our abilities to relate in person? Do blogs and other web or online identities complement or conflict with our ‘real lives’? Is it possible to live without this kind of profile or activity? How meaningful is mass communication in a specified number of characters? As a comfortably non-web or online fan, I am unconvinced that online identity is as important as modern technological paradigms might have us think.
I like the idea of my own agency over who I befriend and connect with. I like the idea of being able to decide for myself how and with whom I share what information. I do not appreciate the notion of my ‘self’ being ‘scattered across the web’ in any more than a professional sense.
In terms of my work and my commitment to creating safe, developmental and pro-social environments for young people and specifically young women, the web and online locations present me with far more questions than answers so far. Maybe I should break that up into story episodes to make it easier to read?