Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Questions for Collide Magazine

I was invited to give a response for Collide Magazine at Azusa Pacific University in California. Something of an update, I spose-
  • What does digital identity really mean and how does it play a role in our current culture?

I think this one is pretty hard to answer. We've struggled to explain what identity constitutes and means without consideration of the internet - I think it's potentially just as complicated there too. In short I'd say digital identity is constructed, but by a different set of forces than identity in a general regard. Rather than blab about it here, I've copied an old draft of my unpublished masters paper here, check pages 22-49 for a comprehensive answer.

  • How do we positively/negatively use digital identity? What are the dangers?

When identity becomes commodified and sold, codified and transferable and otherwise structured by the architecture of an interface I worry. In other words - we sell identity data to advertisers (or worse, in China it's used to oppress people), we force categorical imperatives on something innately dynamic and subjective, and the structure of systems can promote corrosive hegemonic norms (see my discussion on the missing box here - http://facebookprojectqa.blogspot.com/2011/01/filling-in-missing-box.html - there is no category for race/ethnicity/nationality on Facebook and this is a problem!).

That said I think the internet can be a place where new identities can be explored in a positive fashion. A person who identifies as gay may not be able to do so openly to their family, but could admit their sexuality openly to friends or communities on the internet, and this could be quite empowering. It used to be that the internet was a place of anonymous deindividuated people (who were actually mostly of a particular class/education/race) but now I think digital identity is regularly tied to offline identity and the internet is full of more kinds of people; Facebook was the beginning of this wave. With Facebook other people would tag pictures of you and talk to you and this data would help to construct who you were as much as your presentation of information, not unlike face-to-face life. There are exceptions to this, of course, like in fantasy videogames and comments on YouTube videos, but it is the shift.

  • How has digital identity changed over the history of Facebook/your experience? Where do you see it headed?
I think it's certainly changed a lot since I studied the network. Remember I started out with it at a time when researchers, the news media and parents didn't know what it was and didn't take it seriously (2006). At the time it was the domain of college students and college student wannabes. Now I think it's become a much more international network and has been integrated into the lives of people of many ages, educations and backgrounds. I would say that the social norms of the network have become much more diverse, and with them we've seen shifts in the performance of identity.

No comments:

Post a Comment