Being part of the internet community is a tense, conflicting existence. Below a furore of passionate tech CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) and Tim Cook (Apple Inc) heralding the arrival of the ‘most connected world yet’, we hear the simmering of cynical dystopians heralding the arrival of a world cursed with fewer and far less meaningful (or positive) human connections.
I have grown up alongside the rise and fall of Friendster, MSN chat, MySpace, the palm pilot, and compact discs, and have experienced how these technologies have created looser and less meaningful ties between friends. I have experienced the fear of contacting someone because I only know them in a ‘Facebook sense’ and I grew up making fleeting friends over chat services who would fade away after a couple of months. I am sad to admit that those are the social skills I am now left with as a 21 year old Gen-Y adult.The question is, do I really need anything more than that in the environment I live in now? Although we crave human connection and a sense of community, most internet-connected societies around the world are becoming fiercely individualised and private (Wesch 2009).
It is critical to identify the distinction between an internet-enabled and an internet-disabled society, as two thirds of the world are currently not connected to the internet for reasons such as lack of infrastructure, device costs, and misconceptions about the value of what the internet may bring (internet.org 2015). Australia (where I live) is one of the most internet-enabled societies internationally, with 79% of households having an internet connection in 2010-11 (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011), so it is acceptable to say that we are one of these ‘individualised’ societies of which so many speak.
A key component of understanding how we exist within individualised, internet-enabled communities is by examining how we construct and broadcast ‘identity’. Whether it be via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat or YouTube, our identity is a no longer a “‘given’ but a ‘task’ and [it is] the individual who is variously charged with the responsibility of performing that task” (Ray 2005). We perform this ‘task’ in the midsts of a contextual collapse, where we broadcast our constructed identity to the ‘generalised other’, an un-knowable audience full of people you might know, may never know, or might know one day. We cannot know what the response may be but nevertheless, we voraciously consume social feedback, whether good or bad, to add to our individual identity. Am I my Facebook self (how I let my friends see me), my Instagram self (broadcasting a visual self to the generalised other), my Twitter self (a carefully constructed persona who only tweets if my comments match my profile description) or my YouTube self (an almost invisible figure tempted infrequently out from the spectator section by only the most witty or inclusive discourse)? Which one (or two or three) is my authentic self? And do I decide this, or do you?
Perhaps our online self is not our actual self, but a part of it; in fact, as researcher Massimo Durante puts it, it is our ‘ideal self’, revealed in the communal construction of the context of communication (2011).
Australian Bureau of Statistics 2011, ‘Household Use of Information Technology, Australia, 2010-11’, accessed 17/03/15, http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/0/192B7AFC26FF3538CA25796600152BDF?opendocument
Durante, M 2011, ‘The Online Construction of Personal Identity through Trust and Privacy’, Information, No.2, pp. 594-620, MDPI
internet.org 2015, ‘About’, accessed 17/04/15, http://internet.org/about
Ray, C. 2005, ‘Individualisation and the Third Age’, Centre for Rural Economy Discussion Paper Series No.3, accessed 17/03/15, http://www.ncl.ac.uk/cre/publish/discussionpapers/pdfs/DP3.PDF
Wesch, M. 2009, “YouTube and You: Experiences of Self- Awareness in the Context Collapse of the Recording Webcam”, Explorations in Media Ecology, No. 8 Vol.2, pp. 19-34
NOTE: This is a blog post intended to be assessed for the BCM310 course.