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Identity in the age of Internet
April 1, 2006
1:00 pm
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garfield9547
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I have something interesting to share. After being to my therapist on Tuesday we spoke about the internet,
Husband worried that I am going to replace him with the net. There is a fine line I think.
Therapist said playing on the internet is like masturbating. Playing with oneself.

So here goes the article I got.

Turkle, Sherry. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.

Sherry Turkle is an MIT-based psychologist who has spent over a decade researching and writing about the relationships between humans, computers, and the idea of selfhood. In this book Turkle argues that computers have moved from being modernist tools (to be used as mere mechanical abacuses) to becoming postmodernist objects-to-think-with, and that not only does this postmodernist perspective allow us to play with multiple selves, it also posits new modes of thinking about human selfhood and thought process. The modernist way of conceiving of computers was linear, rational, and governed by fundamental truths. There were standard rules about how to program and use computers, rules that allowed no deviation. Turkle recalls: "As recently as ten or fifteen years ago, it was almost unthinkable to speak of the computer’s involvement with ideas about unstable meanings and unknowable truths."(p.18) Ideas about how computers worked "were presented as one of the great modern metanarratives, stories of how the world worked that provided unifying pictures and analyzed complicated things by breaking them down into simpler parts."(p.19)

But with the development of the Apple Macintosh, which provided the first virtual spatial "desktop" environment, as well as a thin veneer of "personality" (a little smiling computer icon would appear on the screen when the drive was processing), and with the computer’s greater ability to contribute to a "culture of simulation", the ideological construction of the computer as glorified abacus began to break down. In its place grew new postmodern ideas which paralleled ever more rapid developments in the new breed of more opaquely operating computers. The Macs of the late 1980s and early 90s came as a single unit, screen, drive, and processor, which could only be disassembled with difficulty: woe to the hapless user whose Mac crashed while his or her disk was still being digested within its electronic innards, since there was no mode of manual extraction. The computer was becoming a machine that could not be tinkered with in clumsy mechanical fashion, as one tinkered with an automobile. Turkle notes: "Frederic Jameson wrote that in a postmodern world, the subject is… fragmented… the self is decentered and multiple… The personal computer culture began with small machines that captured a post-1960s utopian vision of transparent understanding. Today, the personal computer culture’s most compelling objects give people a way to think concretely about an identity crisis. In simulation, identity can be fluid and multiple, a signifier no longer clearly points to a thing that is signified, and understanding is less likely to proceed through analysis than by navigation through virtual space.(p.49)

Turkle uses the metaphor of "windows" as one example of how the computer provides a model for describing postmodern thought/identity formation. In the windows environment on a computer, the user begins with a "desktop" upon which various "files" or "windows" can be opened and run simultaneously. The user can view them all at once or individually, shuttling back and forth between multiple windows as necessary. And even the "desktop" is not a constant but can be modified by the user. Turkle writes: "[t]he development of windows for computer interfaces was a technical innovation motivated by the desire to get people working more efficiently by cycling through different applications. But in the daily practice of many computer users, windows have become a powerful metaphor for thinking about the self as a multiple, distributed system."(p.14)

In the jargon of pop psychology, "multitasking" is used to connote certain kinds of consciousness in which several jobs are simultaneously performed; for example, the parent who can concurrently talk on the phone, make dinner, and instruct children as to the correct format of table setting. In the windows environment it is recognized that one window is not "better" or "more correct" than another, merely that certain windows are more necessary or appropriate at certain times. This has translated into the view of humans as playing multiple roles or having multiple selves. In a modernist conception of personhood, one had an identity problem if one was "alienated" from one’s true identity; in a postmodernist society one has an identity problem if one cannot summon the correct self at the appropriate time, or cannot figure out how to enable the fractious selves to work together.

Turkle sees the Internet as an explicit example of multiple personality. Online, as the joke goes, no-one knows you’re a dog. The Net has enabled users to play with identity as never before. One’s only identifying feature is one’s email address, and even that can be modified. All else is up for grabs. When participating in MUDs or MOOs, users can assume and construct any identity they want, and many are not even human. A giant carrot might chat with a purple mouse in a virtual environment. To post in a chat room or Usenet one can assume a name that is male, female, or completely ambiguous. Turkle feels that this kind of identity play allows people to more fully understand the hidden aspects of themselves through enjoying the freedom that anonymity lends, for on the Net "people are able to build a self by cycling through many selves"(p.178). Gender play is common, as is a relaxing of the rules about polite social interaction (see Herring's thoughts on this). "The Internet has become a significant social laboratory for experimenting with the constructions and reconstructions of self that characterize postmodern life. In its virtual reality, we self-fashion and self-create"(p.180).

Turkle’s identity play is not limited to dialogic interaction. She feels that home pages are part of such a process of creating an identity for oneself. She writes: "On the Web, the idiom for constructing a 'home' identity is to assemble a 'home page' of virtual objects that correspond to one’s interests… Like the agents in emergent AI [artificial intelligence], one’s identity emerges from whom one knows, one’s associations and connections… Home pages on the Web are one recent and dramatic illustration of new notions of identity as multiple yet coherent…"(p.258-9)

Turkle’s idea of multiplicity is a challenge to Herring's structurally gendered environment, as well as an interesting counterpoint to Miller’s ideas about separating the online "mind" from the physically gendered body. Turkle proposes that not only can the self assume an identity online which is different from its actual concrete incarnation, but also that theoretically these identities are infinite. However, Turkle’s context is psychotherapy, with which I am not particularly concerned, since to confine the concept of the multiple self to an individualized psychological dimension does not allow for an exploration of how the multiple self might translate into a political subject. While Turkle’s examination of multiplicity online is instructive, it focuses more on a vision of the self than on the effects of multiplicity to political action; her personal remains personal and not political. I am more interested in the political applications of epistemological pluralism, the "story of the eroding boundaries between the real and the virtual, the animate and inanimate, the unitary and multiple self, which is occurring both in advanced scientific fields of research and in the patterns of everyday life"(p.10) that can be applied to a model for political action.

What do you think????

April 4, 2006
2:00 pm
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garfield9547
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Hi everybody

"Turkle sees the Internet as an explicit example of multiple personality. Online, as the joke goes, no-one knows you’re a dog. The Net has enabled users to play with identity as never before. "

What do you think?

April 5, 2006
4:06 pm
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eve
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A lot of people seem to do it. If you believe rumours, then over 20 percent of people in chatrooms pretend to be female but are male or vice versa.

I prefer to do role playing with real people (theater group, role playing games ...), because it is most interesting to get the feedback live.

April 6, 2006
9:19 am
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garfield9547
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eve

This is so interesting.
Lots of people thought I am male because of my name.

Why would men pretend to be female?

What's your thought

Garfield

April 7, 2006
12:21 pm
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Worried_Dad
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Yes, the internet makes it hard to know who anyone is really.

For example, I thought Garfield was a large orange cat.

And just from my nickname, it is hard to tell that I am a hot blonde 14 year old girl who enjoys the company of distinguished older gentlemen who work for the Department of Homeland Security.

😀

April 7, 2006
12:23 pm
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eve
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Propably because they want to see how other guys will try to chat up an attractive female 😉

I think that role playing without real life feedback is not something that will help anybody for psychological growth. It is hard enough to work through the feedback we get here, assuming nobody is role playing - just because the written word is so much less information about the person you communicate with than real talking. All the gestures, looks, sounds are missing and leave lots of room for dysinterpretation.

April 7, 2006
1:57 pm
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garfield9547
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eve

"Propably because they want to see how other guys will try to chat up an attractive female 😉

Good one.

Worried Dad

Hee hee hee

Yes, this is so true. What's in a name. We can be male, female, animal etc.

Where did you get your name anyway?

Garfield

April 8, 2006
1:25 pm
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Worried_Dad
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Where did I get my name?

From the cartoon mouse, of course.

April 8, 2006
1:40 pm
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garfield9547
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Worried Dad

ROFL !!!

Garfield

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