December 14, 2005

80/20: ESSAY 2 & FINAL


The publicity of privacy

At a humanistic level, I don’t believe that identity is contained solely in one person. Every person that you encounter becomes a part of your internal makeup to lesser and greater degrees. What you glean from other people is effected by your inherent predispositions, but still I think we are intensely impressionably from day one. As we grow up we may become more savvy, or we may just fall for the same things in different guises.

What also changes with this personal interaction is which information we choose to disclose publicly. On the one hand our society feels very open compared to the Victorian era, as an example. On the other hand, when people tell the intimate details of their lives it still feels like trespassing to me.

There has been in the postmodern world, a shift in how we think about the private and the public. Today, family and personal life is a public conversation, whereas a hundred years ago a person did not openly discuss these kinds of matters. Conversely, business affairs have become increasingly covert and become more private.

While it is not as simple as a dualistic conversion of the public and private, the way we look at information about each other and our world has shifted paradigmatically in the last century. How we create public discourse is neither an individual exercise or an actively group affair. Shifting cultural perceptions result from a collected swarm of influences such as technology, economics, geography and architecture. I don’t think we can consciously decide where to take society, just as we can’t always consciously control what we are going to say in a given situation, or how we are going to say it.

In his book The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere Jurgen Habermas discusses the bourgeois concepts of privacy:

Discussion as a form of sociability gave away to the fetishism of community involvement as such: “Not in solitary and selfish contemplation….does one fulfill oneself? in the circles of the bourgeois public---private reading has always been the precondition for rational-critical debate--?but in doing things with other people…even watching television together…helps make one more of a real person.? (158)

Stressing the importance of sociability, our concept of community does not support the loner or the recluse. People who do not participate with the majority are looked upon with suspicion or perhaps considered mentally and emotionally flawed in some manner. As a culture we value interaction and participation, even if only sitting next to each other in front of a screen. Is that what we are doing on the Web?

Is the web a way to spend time alone with other people? Can we still validate our sense of community safely from the web? And, can we interact on the web without the pressure to behave in a certain way, perhaps likened to the way small children go a bit bananas after they’ve been buttoned down in a formal setting for awhile?

But is this the type of freedom that we need? Does it distract us from the deficiencies in non-web interaction? On the one hand it can feel like hiding and seclusion, on the other it can feel like reprieve. As humans we need both a fertile inner-life as well as a sense of community. Some of us are more comfortable on the inside and some of us cringe at the thought of ever staying in. There are also those amazing people that achieve that thing I've heard about called "balance." But, at any rate, wouldn’t it be great to feel comfortable in both arenas?

Machine-based selves

We talk a lot about how we interact with others on the web, but how about how we interact with ourselves on the web? During written dialogue do we have a consistent self that speaks, or are we fragmented bits of self that create new voices as we go? Or, a more holistic analogy might be that we are large prisms with different facets that bend the light and cast various rainbows around the web. Any way we look at it, the voice comes out in text and is conveyed through a machine. These two factors largely contribute to the identity of the speaking voice.

Thoughts are rendered differently through each medium. Ideas on the web are twice removed from their speaker, once through the text, and second through the machine. The speaker is in many ways liberated from the otherwise inescapable context of their physical being

In her book Life on the Screen Sherry Turkle talks about the anxiety of identity within the postmodern world. She writes:

Frederic Jameson wrote that in a postmodern world, the subject is not alienated but fragmented. He explained that the notion of alienation presumes a centralized, unitary self who could become lost to himself or herself. But if, as a postmodernist sees it, the self is decentered, and multiple, the concept of alienation breaks down. All that is left is the anxiety of identity.? (49)

In seeking the self we find not one tidy self, but an inexact multiplicity of selves that don’t conform to either consistency or predictability. In an age that champions individualism and self-knowledge, this can be disconcerting for not only the listener, but the speaker as well. Turkle goes on to say:

“In simulation, identity can be fluid and multiple, a signifier no longer clearly points to thing that is signified, and understanding is less likely to proceed through analysis than by navigation through virtual space.?(49)

The key point here is “simulation? and to what extent if can be helpful in non-simulated life. Rather than get too deeply into questions about what is and isn‘t “reality,? let’s just remember that you can’t live your whole life on the web. At some point, you’ll have to defragment enough to interact with more than just your machines, or will you?

She and Her

In Plato's Pharmacy Derrida writes:

“Hence the dialectician will sometimes write, amass monuments, collect hupomnemata, just for fun. But he will do so while still putting his products at the service of dialectics and in order to leave a trace for whomever might want to follow in his footsteps on the pathway to truth. The dividing line now runs less between presence and the trace than between the dialectical trace and the no dialectical trace, between play in the “good? sense and play in the “bad? sense of the word.? (153)

Her: There's no reasoning with you. You're impossible. (flicks cigarette)

She: Well, darling, at the moment, I'm all you've got. (stirs tea)

Her: Oh, I wouldn't be too sure about that, toots. (blows a cloud of smoke)

She: You really do get quite piqued don't you! That is so cute. (taps spoon on rim)

Her: Cute! Why you patronizing little doily...! (sits up from a cross-legged slouch)

She: Come now, my hot-headed pugilist, let's just make some tea and sort this out! I just love your energy! (gives a wide mouth smile)

Her: (feigning incredulousness) Lady, you are something else, I think you oughta go back to your red-hat club or where ever it is that they feel so happy and spunky about everything because this refusal to grasp the bitterness of life is giving me an itchin for whiskey like you wouldn't believe!

She: Whiskey! How divinely hurly-burly! Do you have a tattoo? (wrinkles her nose and shimmies her shoulders)

Her: (groan of disbelief, agony, and frustration at not having her stalwart and gruff gumption taken seriously by She.) arghhh..... (pretends to flail in pain)

“What should I wear,? she asked

Identity Dexterity

Sometimes we can forget that we affect real humans on the Web. It can feel very removed from non-Web existence. In my own blog, and opine very openly about people that I know only from reading their writing on the Web, people I do not know personally.

Then, one day I had a light bulb of realization about blogs and human relationships in the nonblog world.

I had checked in with Jill Walker’s blog at www.jill/, and suddenly felt worried that I'd written something harsh about her writing on my blog. When we were responding to her blog and her paper, I sort of forgot that she's a friend of Rob, and that I’ve gotten to like her from reading her blog on and off over the last year.

We get so used to looking for the flaws when reading academically, we can forget that these are real people. If I had remembered that Jill was a real live cool person, would I have responded more gently to her ideas, and would that have been good or bad? When commenting on Jill’s work I was definitely wearing my cold, critic’s hat, and I think that I did this unconsciously. This makes me wonder if we can slide more easily into disparate identities on the Web because it lacks other physical personality cues. We don’t have to worry about how we’re communicating in any sense except through the text, so in that way we can become quickly one-dimensional in that voice, but quickly slide out of it into a different one when we’re finished with a task that requires that voice..

We transition like this constantly in non-Web life, but on the Web, it’s almost clumsier. We can’t change hats quite as quickly, because we’re stuck in the text. It isn’t that it can’t be done, but in the text, the layers can be trickier to manipulate. The more skillful you are with language, the more hats you dance and juggle with. Think of it as identity dexterity. It’s a little slippery and suspect, but also a lot of fun. But, like anything, it’s how you use your talents, for good, or for evil, or, not to be dualistic, for a little of both perhaps.


In one of my classes friend and fellow grad student just presented her paper on the influence of Scheherazade from the Arabian Nights on other writers, particularly in the 19th century. She talked a lot about the use of identity and disguises and deception, all delicious aspects of writing. For those who may be rusty on their recollection of the Arabian Nights, Scheherazade told stories to keep herself alive. Her husband had the terrible habit of marrying virgins and then killing them the next morning, but Scheherazade was such a talented storyteller, that she kept herself alive for years by telling her husband stories until, two kids later, she obtained his promise not to kill her.

And so, all of that got me to thinking about how we create “nesting stories? inside the mainframe story, ie., Chris’s fellow bloggers Mrs. Hasselbeck, Raph, and Dwight. Within our own lives, is an endless array of nested stories: personal, professional, fantasy, fiction, nonfiction.

In the psychosocial sense and the literary sense, we all tell stories to keep ourselves alive, either overtly, or covertly, or both. There has to be a real thread of narrative for the sense of continuity in our lives. Something like a blog can concretize that thread. And, a beautiful aspect of it, is that we never really know when we are going to surprise ourselves, or those around us. Ah! Humanity! Full of glorious surprises!

If we made a hard copy map of our Web hyperlink travels, we could visually realize the way our mind travels obliquely and quickly in all directions, but we would also see that all leaps make sense out of the linear stream of thought. And, like a faithful puppy, I return to my fascination and adherence to the belief that all ideas are related, especially as the crow flies--CONNECTIVITY, that's what I'm talkin about.

The suppression of my you and the tyranny of one-dimensional you.

She: Hello, thank you for doing this interview. (turns on tape recorder)

Her: Not a problem. (languid)

She: (enunciating well) There is a freedom and a danger in not knowing who exactly you is.

Her: ( very thoughtful, almost pensive) Yes. I have a general idea but I can never be sure of myself comprehensively.

She: (professionally intrigued) How does this affect your voice as a writer? You is unconstrained but also can be misconstrued.

Her: (furrows brow) Do you mean my voices? Do I know if my voices as a writer are as malleable as my speaking voices? Perhaps voice is like snowflakes and fingerprints--it is never the replicated, never the same voice twice. How could it be? We cannot step into the same river twice? Once an instant is over, it is over forever, not even in the mind is it the same. My voice is influenced, compounded, by the inflections given to it by the world. Even clothing is inconstant. Every time I wear my hat, it has new dirt on it, a new flaw, a new scent. Life, writing, voice, all of it, irreplaceable, unreplicable.

(gesticulating dramatically like a professor) And my you is never unconstrained. There is always a format. And words can only be misconstrued outside of their context. I construe them one way, and that is my way. Another hears them differently, but correct for their context.

She: (grave, level voice) Your ideas reflect an acceptance of individual reality.

Her: (back to relaxed nonchalance) Yeh, okay. (drinks her merlot)

She: (looks at her notes) Tell me about the statement in your book, “I do collaborative writing with myself. I am all of us and we are the author.?

Her: (bemused) Isn’t that one obvious?….Our idea of this uniform one-dimensional monument of the self might be more accurately depicted as a flexible mosaic structure that is continuously in flux, gently and ambiently and some times violently, even after death, partly meta, almost metabolic but more, mmm… you know. The whole identity corpus hovers out in the collective conscious like a huge ethereal blimp… and, that is always transmogrifying….ahem. (voice trails off, eyes looking as if toward the horizon)

She: So, a decentered self implies that a defined “true? identity would be a more stable.

Her: Not at all. The single iconic notion of the author is a tyranny in the Humanities. It creates an arid climate, arid writing, arid speech. Arid, arid, ugh. Arid. My ictus of aridity. (wave hand dismissively in the air, drains her merlot)

She: In the sciences it is the norm that research articles are collaborative with 3,4 or more authors, but in the English departments, for example, we have a looming one-dimensional version of authorship.

Her: Amen sister, That is what I’m talkin about. So much possessiveness! ( a little tipsy)

She: Her, thank you for talking with me today.

Her: Oh, She, it was absolutely a pleasure, to treasure, beyond measure, let’s hope it’s read in a state of leisure….Abientot! (dazzling smile)

There's a first time for each one of me.

I’ve been casually perusing Claude Levi-Strauss’ Look, Listen, Read lately. He makes a comment about Diderot which struck me as both amusing and irritating, depending on the context you imagined to go with it. Strauss says:

Diderot was so receptive to other people’s ideas that he often thought that he had had them first. He would then, in all good faith, reproach them for not having thought in his terms and credit them with notions that he himself had professed before having read them. Such intellectual sleights are not unknown today (78-79).

There’s a whole gumball of ownership ideas wrapped up in that. We live in such a, what do they call it, “knowledge economy,? or some such term. We are a culture that vehemently declares, “ I thought of it first? or “don’t copy me? or “give credit where credit is due? and etc. I’m not saying that this is bad or good, but interesting. That’s where the whole race part of the rat race comes in. Who did it first. And, whatever it is that you get credit for doing first, that is your identity, that is your trademark, brand name.

The currency of currency

A prevailing theme in almost everything I read these days regarding how we define cultural mainstays like artist, writer, novel, game, is that none of these have a solid definition anymore. The ideological space that each of them takes up continual expands and overlaps with other definitions.

The knowableness of individual aspects of life is becoming vague. Each cultural entity is spilling over into the next. We can't tell you exactly or succinctly what a game or a narrative is anymore, or a writer, or novel. I think that it frustrates the more orderly of minds, especially in academia. Undecidables are threatening to the knowable, for some of us.

This situation feels inevitable. and the same loss of conciseness is evident in people as well. You can see it a lot on the Web. I am this, and this, and that, oh and this too, but only sometimes, but I can also do this, but only if I have that, and occasionally I can do this but only if I know that these will be here, and when those are gone, then I can move like these, see? That is me.

Dissent, Persuasion, Attrition and Acquiescence within the internal dialectic.

Plato's Phaedrus

Socrates: I agree--if, that is, the arguments that come forward to speak for oratory should give testimony that it is an art. Now I seem, as it were, to hear some arguments advancing to give their evidence that it tells lies, that it is not an art at all, but an artless routine. "Without a grip on the truth," says the Spartan, "there can be no genuine art of speaking either now or in the future."

Phaedrus: Socrates, we need these arguments. Bring the witnesses here and let’s find our what they have to say and how they’ll say it.

Socrates: Come here, then, noble brood, and convince Phaedrus, father of such fine children, that if he doesn’t give enough attention to philosophy, he will never become a competent speaker on any subject. Now let Phaedrus answer

Is all inner-dialogue in the form of an argument in order to explore an idea? To learn do we simply break concepts down and relate/compare them to other knowledge for plausibility?

If we do this as a solitary activity are we more prone to create multiple personas than some one who must maintain a consistent visage with another person? Do we examine more sides of an argument when we are left to solve it in solitude rather than uniformly presenting one side of it? If the dialectic is internalized are we actually able to see all of the aspects that we need to see?

Argument is about more than fighting.

Arguing is how we learn about what is you and what is them..

Argument as Self-exploration.

Argument as a process for achieving balance.

Argument as a symptom of curiosity.

Argument as a method of acquiring power.

Argument as Abuse.

Argument as Fatigue.

Argument as Apathy.

Argument Irrelevance.

Recreational Argument.

Arguing to fill the void.

Argument as Procrastination.

Argument as Distraction.

Is all inner-dialogue used for problem-solving?

Argument as the foundation of inner-dialogue.

Argument as a constructive process rather than merely a source of conflict.

Argument as a quest for validation of the self.

Argument as a palliative for uncertainty.

Argument as a sign of misdirected aggression.

When we argue over ideologies on a blog, who are we arguing with? Ourselves? Or “them?? Who is “them?? Maybe “them? is really just your multiple “you’s.?

Illumination via the inner-dialectic

In Life on the Screen Turkle has a great chapter called “Identity Crisis? that discusses the various facets of how we display our personalities on the Web. In the discussion she doesn’t dualistically support either multiple or unitary ideas about the self, but looks at the possible realities of either representation. She arrives at what is often the most plausible and logical picture of any dualism: the reality is somewhere in the middle.

Just as a flat, one-dimensional self is unlikely, a multiple, uncontained self is not really desirable either. She summarizes the self nicely by saying:

As we sense our inner diversity we come to know our limitations. We understand that we do not and cannot know things completely, not the outside world and not ourselves. (261)

It is in this way that inner-dialogue with our various selves can be enriching, if not enlightening. We can be sure that we will never answer all of the questions in the world, and for this we should be grateful. It is this curiosity about life that drives the search for knowledge, which in turn creates the golden light in our souls, bathed by illuminating thoughts, and some mediocre ones, too.

She and Him

(At the Kitchen table...)

She: Sometimes external institutions put a metaphorical gun to our heads. (sigh)

Him: Yes, but sometimes we hold that gun there ourselves. (raises eyebrows, but not combative)

She: Well, if you look at it that way, we are always the ones to do it because if we don’t then the external institution will do it for us, and knock us out of existence..( waves hands apocalyptically)

Him: What I mean is, is that sometimes we create our own regulations that aren’t necessarily instilled by external forces. In other words, we put our own demands on ourselves that may not be required outside of our own standards of living, so in that sense, we can put the gun there ourselves when we don’t necessarily need to..(turns a palm up in a questioning manner)

She: Are you saying that it’s not really a fundamental requirement of life to push for progress? (looks at Him sideways) .

Him: No, I’m just saying that how hard you push depends on who’s holding the gun to your head. A law can require you to do something and if you don’t do it you can lose your way of life such as if you don’t pay your mortgage or your property taxes, you will lose your house in foreclosure. If you don’t fix your roof, which is not enforced by law, you will also lose your house to the damage caused by a leaky roof. In either case, there is a metaphorical gun to your head requiring that you act in some constructive manner..(leans back, crosses legs)

She: So the gun is a good thing? (elbow on table, chin in palm).

Him: Well, rather than be evaluative of the gun, which is just a thing, we can be evaluative of how we use the gun. (head tilted to side, looking at the ceiling).

She: Yes, sometimes we can use the gun when we don’t need to, creating aggression and stress when its not necessary. The gun is always there, but the danger can be real or illusory. We can trick ourselves and abuse the powers of the gun..(nodding head in agreement, chin still in palm)

Him: And sometimes, the danger is real, but it might only shoot you in the toe rather than in the head. (small grin).

She: That’s kind of a violent metaphor. (eyes squinting) .

Him: Yeh. Maybe we could just say it‘s a big stick.(grin gets bigger)

She: Mmmm. I think either way it involves violence. (shakes head, gets up from table)

Him: Yeh..(lights a cigarette)

She: But, it can be a painful world, and a beautiful world, too.(washing hands at sink) .

Him: Yeh.

She: Painful and beautiful at the same time. (dries hands, leaves room)

Him: for sure. (blows a smoke ring)

Plato's Phaedrus:

Socrates: He will sow his seed in literary gardens, I take it, and write when he does write by way of pastime, collecting a store of reminders for his own memory, against the day “when age oblivious comes,? and for all such as tread in his footsteps, and he will take pleasure in watching the tender plants grow up. And when other men resort to other pastimes, regaling themselves with drinking parties and suchlike, he will doubtless prefer to indulge in the recreation I refer to.

Phaedrus: And what an excellent one it is, Socrates! How far superior to the other sort is the recreation that a man finds in words, when he discourses about justice and the other topics you speak of.

Socrates: Yes indeed, dear Phaedrus. But far more excellent, I think, is the serious treatment of them, which employs the art of the dialectic. The dialectician selects a soul of the right type, and in it he plants and sows his words founded on knowledge, words which can defend both themselves and him who planted them, word which instead of remaining barren contain a seed whence new words grow up in new characters, whereby the seed is vouchsafed immortality, and its possessor the fullest measure of blessedness that man can attain unto
. (276d-277a)

Works cited:

Derrida, Jacques. “Plato’s Pharmacy.? Dissemination. London: Athlone Press, 1981.

Habermas, Jurgen. Trans. Thomas Burger. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1991.

Hayles, Katherine N. How We Became Posthuman. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

Plato. Trans. Walter Hamilton. Phaedrus and Letters VII and VIII. New York: Penguin Classics, 1973.

Strauss, Claude-Levi. Trans. Brian C.J. Singer. Look, Listen, Read. New York: Basic Books, 1997.

Turkle, Sherry. Life on the Screen. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.

Posted by wood0072 at December 14, 2005 8:11 PM