15 Feb 2010

Except, I’m really with Turkle on this.

February 15, 2010 506, assignments Comments Off

The problem with talking about identity creation, whether on the Internet or not, is that the argument assumes that identity is consciously created.

It’s not.

The postmodernists are wrong. Identity is built through action, not created. If — as the aphorism goes — actions speak louder than words, then what you do is who you are. And who you are is a product of your choices, whether carefully considered or not.

The argument that a Facebook profile is an example of virtual identity construction seems true, at least on the surface. But looking deeper, there are some holes — that is, an individual doesn’t select pictures to upload (and one as a profile picture) because of a conscious desire to communicate a certain thing about who he wants to be. Rather, the individual (let’s call him Mike) uploads a certain picture to be his profile picture. There is no subtext, and there is no conscious motive of identity creation: the photo is a part of Mike’s identity because he chose to upload it. He did not choose to upload it because he wants to use it to create his identity. That’s a crucial distinction.

Consider for a second our hypothetical user’s hypothetical girlfriend, Tara. Tara and Mike are Facebook friends, but aren’t listed in each other’s relationship status, because Tara is “married” to the pickle that has more fans than Glenn Beck. She’s not making some sociopolitical statement about Who She Is with the pickle, she’s goofing off.

Her profile picture is of herself posing under an umbrella printed with images of Marilyn Monroe. She’s not borrowing the symbolism of Monroe to say something meaningful about herself, she’s posing with an umbrella she got for her birthday because she likes Marilyn. People are not that complex, and their actions are not that well-thought-out.

The problem with talking about identity creation is that often, people don’t think; they do. And it’s those actions, often impulsive, often uncritical, often unreflected-upon, that truly define who one is.

To take it a step further, I’ll argue that people don’t do things because they want to be the type of person that does that particular thing, but because that’s what they do. Mike doesn’t volunteer at his church youth group’s car wash because he wants to post car wash pictures on Facebook so everyone can see what a caring/fun/good person he is. He posts them because he was there, and there were pictures. He posts them on Facebook not because he uses Facebook to define himself, but because that’s where his friends will see them. And his friends will see them there not because they’re playing with their own personal and relational identities, but because that’s where everyone is posting photos. Fin.

Ultimately, this idea about identity production on the Internet runs parallel to ideas about trends. People don’t follow trends because they want to be the type of person who wears Ugg boots; they wear Ugg boots because they want to be trendy.

I don’t wear stupid tee shirts because I’m commenting on changing notions of adulthood, I’m wearing a tee shirt with a picture of a 1-up mushroom on it because I like it and I find it funny. And that’s a different thing entirely.

Clothes, like AIM screennames, aren’t some ongoing commentary on Who I Say I Am. They’re a product of who we are, just as your Facebook profile is a reflection of your actual self rather than your idealized self.

Real people don’t edit. They act.

Tags: , , , ,

Comments are closed.