Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Virtually the same question

With the virtual world phenomenon I keep on coming back to the same question: how does online avatar-based interaction change our sense of who we are and how we relate to others? And that’s essentially a question about identity. The more I think about this, the less comfortable I feel with both the Giddens idea of the ongoing narrative of the self and the Goffman thing about identity performance. Both imply an essential self and neither really account for how identity is differently structured and formed (re-formed) in contextualised interactions. In this passage, from Issue 100 of Granta, Salman Rushdie seems to capture how identity as a discursive practice is subject to social and historical forces: As Popeye the Sailor Man so succinctly put it, I yam what I yam and that’s all I yam. These days, however, we have a slipperier, more fragmented sense of what character actually is. We argue a good deal about how much of our behaviour is externally determined and how much comes from within. We are by no means certain of the existence of a soul, and we know that we are very different people in different circumstances: we are one way with our families and another way in the workplace. We are more fluid and metamorphic than our forefathers believed they were; we know that within the ‘I’ there is a bustling crowd of different ‘I’s jostling for space, coming to the fore, being pushed back again, growing, shrinking, even disappearing entirely, while new ‘I’s grow. We can change, in the course of a life, so profoundly that we no longer recognise our younger selves [...]the nature of the self and the extent to which it determines our actions are more problematic subjects than they used to be. (Heraclitus - Rushdie in: Granta Winter 2007)

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