Constructing selves online // reading reflection

I love reading danah boyd (lower case intentional) because her focus is on debunking ideas of technology radically reshaping the human experience. Like Horst and Miller she argues that people remain the same, the tools the have to perform and represent identity are just different.

I recalled speaking to a teen named Stan whom I’d met in Iowa three years earlier. He had told me to stop looking for differences. “You’d actually be surprised how little things change. I’m guessing a lot of the drama is still the same, it’s just the format is a little different. It’s just changing the font and changing the background color really.” He made references to technology to remind me that technology wasn’t changing anything important. (3)

If I have learned one thing from my research, it’s this: social media services like Facebook and Twitter are providing teens with new opportunities to participate in public life, and this, more than anything else, is what concerns many anxious adults (10)

This is really relevant to my precursor for the same reasons I wrote about in my Horst and Miller reflection. I came at this project with a sense of alarmist horror at the radically changed ways young girls were interacting on digital spaces but have now arrived at a conclusion that the behaviours are not anything new, however the tools to share them are.

I also quite like boyd’s discussion of identity formation in avatars.

Choosing and designing an avatar is a central part of participation in immersive games and virtual worlds, but youth approach this practice in extraordinarily varied ways. Some teens purposefully construct their avatars in ways that they feel reflect their physical bodies; other teens choose characters based on skills or aesthetics. For some teens, being “in world” is discrete from their school environment, whereas others game with classmates. It may seem that the roleplaying elements of these environments imply a significant separation between the virtual and the real; however, these often get blurred in fantasy game worlds as well. 42

Her thoughts remind me alot of Caroline Humphrey’s discussion of avatar use in Russian chat rooms of all places.

[Avatars] should convey the inner state of the person, his soul, one might say, or the condition of his soul . Ordinary life is a suppression of the true inner being of a person, which lies deep in the soul and which is both profound and expressive.

(Miller 150, citing Humphrey 2009 40-41)

A nice little bridge between two readings I found marvellous. I’m thinking about my own construction of an avatar and what kind of choices I have made for her. I think the honesty of the Tumblr posts are an example of using an avatar to convey the condition of one’s soul, and the use of the ensuing instagram pictures is also quite revealing of my inner thoughts at the time. I think also though, avatars are often used as consolation for something, compensation for that which is missing in inner life.

Works cited

boyd, danah. It’s Complicated : The Social Lives of Networked Teens. Yale University Press, 2014. Print. (lower case on purpose for surname)

Humphrey, Caroline. “The Mask and the Face: Imagination and Social Life in Russian Chat Rooms and Beyond.” Ethnos 74.1 (2009): 31-50. Print.

Miller, Daniel.  “Social Networking Sites”. Digital Anthropology. Ed. Heather Horst and Daniel Miller. English ed. London: Berg, 2012. 150. Print.

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