Thursday, December 28, 2017

Summary: Introduction: Identity in the Age of the Internet / Turkle

Turkle S. (1997) “Introduction: Identity in the Age of the Internet” in Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York, Phoenix: 9-26.

The Internet
  • Rapidly expanding system of networks, links millions of people in new spaces that are changing the way we think, the nature of our sexuality, the form of our communities, our very identities
  • We are learning how to live in a virtual world (that we share with other people)
  • “Cyberspace” à part of the everyday life (emails, can talk, exchange ideas, assume our own creation)
  • Context à the story of eroding boundaries b/n the real and the virtual, the animate and the inanimate, the unitary and the multiple self
  • In the real time communities of cyberspace, we are dwellers on the threshold b/n the real and virtual, unsure of our footing, inventing ourselves as we go along

Living in the Mud
  • Multi-user computer games are based on different kinds of software (MUD refers to all of them)
  • MUD put you in virtual spaces in which you are able to navigate, converse, and build
  • You join a MUD through a command that links your computer to the computer on which the MUD program resides
  • Most players are middle-class
  • New kind of virtual parlor game and new form of community
  • Text-based MUD are a new form of collaboratively written literature à MUD players are MUD authors
  • It provides world for anonymous social interaction in which one can play a role as close to or as far away from one’s “real self” as one chooses
  • On MUD, one’s body is represented by one’s own textual description (obese can be athletic…) you just know the name of one’s character.
  • Identity refers to the sameness b/n 2 qualities, in this case b/n a person and his or her persona (you can be many).
  • Windows (not Bill Gates) provide a way for a computer to place you in several contexts at the same time
  • Each of these activities (can do different things at the same moment) takes place in a window; your identity on the computer is the sum of your distributed presence
  • In the daily practice of many computer users, windows have become a powerful metaphor for thinking about the self as a multiple, distributed system
  • MUD are amazing example of how computer mediated communication can serve as a place for the construction and reconstruction of identity
  • When people can play at having different genders and different lives, it isn’t surprising that for some of this play has become as real as what we conventionally think of as their lives, although for them this is no longer a valid distinction

French Lessons
  • For many people it is hard to accept any challenge to the idea of an autonomous ego
  • Disjuncture b/n theory (the unitary self is an illusion) and lived experience (the unitary self is the most basic reality) is one of the main reasons why multiple and decentered theories have been slow to catch on – or when they do, why we tend to settle back quickly into older, centralized ways of looking at things
  • Today you use a computer and a modem at home to access MUDs.
  • Anonymously, I travel their rooms and public areas. I create several characters, some not of my biological gender, who are able to have social and sexual encounters with other characters.
  • In my computer-mediated worlds, the self is multiple, fluid and constituted in interaction with machine connections; it is made and transformed by language; sexual congress is an exchange of signifiers; and understanding follows from navigation and tinkering rather than analysis.
  • And in the machine-generated world of MUDs, I meet characters who put me in a new relationship with my OWN identity
  • Character played by people are sometimes mistaken for some little artificial intelligences – assuming that a character is a machine when the response looks too much automatic
  • Not only are MUDs places where the self is multiple and constructed by language, they are places where people and machines are in a new relation to each other, indeed can be mistaken for each other.
  • In such ways, MUDs are evocative objects for thinking about human identity and, more generally, about a set of ideas that have come to be known as ‘postmodernism’ – characterized by ‘decentered’, ‘fluid’, ‘nonlinear’, and ‘opaque’
  • It contrasts with modernism, the classical world-view that has dominated Western thinking since the Enlightenment
  • MUD exemplify the phenomenon that of computer-mediated experiences brining philosophy down to earth
  • The online world of internet isn’t the only instance of evocative computer objects and experiences bringing postmodernism down to earth
  • People come to a certain understanding of postmodernism and to recognize its ability to usefully capture certain aspects of their own experience, both online and off
  • The Modernist Computational Aesthetic à the image of the computer as calculator suggested that no matter how complicated a computer might seem, what happened inside it could be mechanically unpacked

From a Culture of Calculation Toward a Culture of Simulation
à Programming is no longer cut and dried – its dimensions have become elusive
  • The very image of a computer as a giant calculator has become quaint and dated
  • Still calculations but not really relevant
  • The computer culture’s center of gravity has shifted decisively to people who don’t think of themselves as programmers
  • The meaning of the computer presence in people’s lives is very different from what most expected in the late 70’s – moving from a modernist culture of calculation toward a postmodernist culture of simulation (emerging in lots of domains)
  • This new culture is affecting our understanding of our minds and our bodies – our brains are opaque to us, but this never prevented them from functioning perfectly well as minds
  • New notion à the computer could project and extend a person’s intellect à computers may extend an individual’s physical presence
  • Many people who engage is netsex say that they are constantly surprised by how emotionally and physically powerful it can be – show the reality of the gig place of sex in our lives (before you were masturbating while reading playboy now you go on the internet)
  • Sexual encounters in cyberspace are only one element of our new lives on the screen
  • Human beings become increasingly intertwined with the technology and with each other via the technology, old distinctions b/n what is specifically human and specifically technological become more complex (are we living life on the screen or no real life?)
  • Emerson à reflected that “dreams and beasts are 2 keys by which we are to find out the secrets of our nature…they are our test objects” (like Freud and Darwin)– the computer is an object, ultimately a mechanism, but it behaves, interacts, and seems in a certain sense to know. But can it think?
  • So before it was dreams and beasts (modernism) and now its computer (postmodernism) – the computer takes us beyond the world of dreams and beasts because it enables us to contemplate mental life that exists apart from bodies
  • As the processing power of computers increased exponentially, it became possible to use that power to build graphical user interfaces, commonly known by the acronym GUI, that hid the bare machine from its user

The new opaque interface
  • Known as the Macintosh iconic style of interface, which stimulates the space of a desktop as well as communication through dialogue – represented more than a radical change
  • People were encouraged to think of understanding as looking beyond the magic to the mechanism
  • 84 à Macintosh – looks perfect, finished but isn’t really – change because it wasn’t only Windows but Mac too – it is nearly universal in personal computing

We have learned to take things at interface value
  • Moving toward a culture of simulation in which people are increasingly comfortable with substituting representations of reality for the real
  • Use a Macintosh style as well as one on four legs
  • We join virtual communities that exist only among ppl communicating on computer network as well as communities in which we are physically present
  • The culture of simulation encourages me to take what I see on the screen. In this culture, if it works for you, it has all the reality it needs.
  • The habit of taking thinfs at interface value is new, but is has gone quite far

We’ve used our relationships with technology to reflect on the human
  • Before people were against the formalism and rationality of the machine ‘romantism’
  • It expressed serious philosophical resistance to any view of people that denied their complexity and continuing mystery.
  • In the 80’s it moved toward ‘romantic machines’ à encouraged a new discourse; both persons and objects were reconfigured, machines as psychological objects, people as living machines
  • Biology is appropriating computer technology’s older, modernist models of computation while at the same time computer scientists are aspiring to develop a new opaque, emergent biology that is closer to the postmodern culture of simulation
  • The rethinking of human and machine identity is not taking place just among philosophers but ‘on the ground’, through a philosophy in everyday life that is in some measure both provoked and carried by the computer presence

We have sought out the subjective computer
  • Computer don’t do only things for us, they do things TO us.
  • Today people explicitly turn to computers for experiences that they hope will change their ways of thinking or will affect their social and emotional lives
  • People are seeking out the computer as an intimate machine
  • Computer screens where we project ourselves into our own dramas, dramas in which we are producer, director, and star – some are private and some not.
  • Computer screens are the new location for our fantasies, both erotic and intellectual – we use life on computer screens to become comfortable with new ways  of thinking about evolution, relationships, sexuality, politics, and identity