(ALC201 Module 1 Exercise Example)
Popular understandings of digital identities continue to rely on relatively stable notions of the (true) ‘self’; however, postmodern themes of multiplicity and incoherence are often more useful in forming a self-impression of my digital identity(s). Indeed, postmodernists’ emphasis on human identity being underpinned by a ‘fragmented, disjointed, and discontinuous mode of experience’ (Kellner 1995, p. 233) gestures to the radical shifts between, to take one example, sending formal emails as a university lecturer one moment and self-reflexively creating (often very personal) video clips the next. My Twitter profile allows me to make this self-presentational shift even more rapidly – even in a matter of seconds. In this context, I can move from a tweet that is primarily aimed to promote myself professionally to a more ‘social’ tweet on another profile that appears to reveal more of my ‘private’ side, as in the respective examples below:
In terms of Kim Barbour and David Marshall’s (2012) categorisation of the different kinds of academic personae, my online activity places me further from the ‘formal’ and fixed broadcast-style self and more in the ‘comprehensive self’ category, which blurs the professional and the private across a number of platforms. This discontinuity allows a high degree of flexibility, providing a means of navigating and contributing to diverse online communities for the purposes of my disparate teaching and research areas, which span digital media innovation, the Holocaust, board game culture, and animal/human rights. However, there are potential limitations to my approach, particularly in terms of needing to find the right balance in order to maintain a following when appealing to often niche and disconnected target communities. Utilising the app JustUnfollow over the past several months has proven an immensely useful way of tracking when anyone stops following me, thus possibly allowing me to determine why this might be and, if I think something needs to change, alter my practices accordingly.
The Easel.ly infographic below symbolically represents some of the ways in which I depict myself across several online media applications:
This visual representation makes a clear distinction between those sites I am generally compelled to put forward a more ‘serious’ and ‘professional’ persona on, such as Academia.edu and LinkedIn, and those on which I construct a more ‘impersonal’ self, such as Twitter and YouTube. I have intentionally distanced myself from Facebook over the past few years, which means that it has been a somewhat isolated element of my online identity. In future years, I plan to make more frequent use of this site – as well as the major gaming community site BoardGameGeek – to further develop my research into board game culture through more intense online community engagement.
One must always bear in mind the primary reason for engaging in online forums: connectivity – or what C. Waite (2013, p. 16) identifies as an individual’s dependency on ‘virtual copresence’. Thinking critically about how one is situated within online communities is crucial to establishing an effective online presence. Attempting to balance the personal and professional, I endeavour to build what might be termed a ‘coherent incoherent’ identity. Reflecting the postmodern conception of the self outlined above, recent research has pointed to frequently updated profile pictures ‘becom[ing] a short hand for changing, up-to-the-minute performances of self’ (Hills 2010, p. 118). However, I don’t tend to change my profile picture often, rather using a consistent ‘formal’ image of myself across most platforms. Metaphorically, my profile picture might (as suggested in the infographic above) be viewed as an anchor around which I construct a multiplicity of often contradictory, if not at times ‘incoherent’, public online selves. By appearing – or ‘performing’ – as a serious professional in my profile picture, this will hopefully counter-balance any negative impression garnered by my more fluid, often self-deprecating, depictions in other forms. For instance, I self-reflexively and critically think through my presentation of self as if playing a series of characters, no matter what medium I am using.
My use of a multiplicity of selves can be found in my fragmented appearances in previous video ‘meLectures’ (as in the image above), in which I intend to disrupt the still widely commonplace notion of a ‘true self’ with performances that are at once compellingly authentic and entirely artificial.
Addressing the notion of the ‘intercommunicative self’, Marshall writes of the ‘necessity of linking one’s own identities into some sort of pattern’ (2010, p. 42). This underlines the importance of ensuring one’s various profiles are consistent and linked when and where useful. My About.Me profile, for example, serves as a useful ‘hub’ for these links, which are also contained in some way on other media. Yet no matter how careful one is in depicting oneself online, it is crucial to acknowledge that the self is as much ‘an effect of representation’ as it is something that is ‘expressed through online practices’ (Poletti and Rak 2014, p. 4). Just as I influence perceptions of myself in the non-virtual world through my online behaviour, so too do my virtual personae impact on my own understanding of who I am.
An awareness of this issue is particularly important at a time when photographs of oneself can be uploaded to any number of sites with impunity, highlighting that one ultimately lacks control over one’s self in significant ways. For example, in one of the first seminars of ALC201 for 2014, I sat awkwardly under a table in an attempt to highlight the need to break down the traditionally conceived power relations between students and teacher. One student in the room took a photograph of me and sent it into the Twittersphere (which I only discovered once the seminar had concluded). This great example serves to highlight the point I was making in the seminar perfectly: the rise of digital media and the surveillance society that comes with it has already provided the means to disrupt conventional power relations, whether we like it or not…
(956 words, not including citations and captions)
Barbour, K and Marshall, D 2012, ‘The academic online: constructing persona through the World Wide Web’, First Monday: Peer-reviewed Journal of the Internet, vol. 17, no. 9, 3 September, retrieved 18 July 2013, http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3969/3292#p3.
Hills, M 2009, ‘Case study: social networking and self-identity’, in Creeber, G and Martin, R (eds.), Digital Cultures: Understanding New Media, Open University Press, Maidenhead, pp. 117-21.
Kellner, D 1995, Media Culture: Cultural Studies, Identity, and Politics Between the Modern and the Postmodern, Routledge, London and New York.
Marshall, P D 2010, ‘The promotion and presentation of the self: celebrity as marker of presentational media’, Celebrity Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 35-48.
Poletti, A and Rak, J 2014, ‘Introduction: digital dialogues’, in Poletti, A and Rak, J, Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, The University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, pp. 3-11.
Waite, C 2013, The Digital Evolution of an American Identity, Routledge, New York.