I’ve now been ranting for a couple of weeks – although it does seem a lot longer – and am thoroughly enjoying myself. I like ranting; I like writing and I’ve been an internet addict for years – all a bit predictable really.
I’ve always been meaning to do write some sort of blog but have been either too needy (what if no one cares) or too lazy (I’d rather waste time wittering on facebook). I was made to do this for a module called Internet Cultures.
No, I’m not talking about the mouldy pieces of pizza found lurking on a computer programmer’s desk. Or the fabulous creation pictured above (my six year old son, a computer games addict, would burst into tears at the very sight of such a thing). The aim of the module is to try and get us to use our critical faculties about something that has been presented in our culture as “technology” – this wonderful, magical force that both makes us clever, empowered, participatory citizens and venal, pornography addled couch potatoes in one fell swoop.
We were given a very interesting reading by the fantastic Professor David Buckingham to look at before the residential; I’m afraid I only read it this week, but in a weird way in made even more sense for me now I’ve started this blog.
Buckingham’s paper Introducing Identity (2008) discusses the importance of the notion of identity in our culture and explains how the internet is a great place where we can explore this – it’s the one place you can “be yourself”, a concept that is central to our highly individualized culture. Belief in the importance of the individual as a free agent who can choose anything from a pair of socks to a career, a religion or even a sexual/gender identity is central to a society that is based on the illusion of infinite ‘freedom’ and ‘choice’. The reality is of course that your choices are limited by class, economics, geography, gender – dull things that sound like they belong in a black and white grimy past rather than a technicolour cyberdelic future.
Buckingham explores the nature of the online world as a place of performance – writing this blog, I can certainly identify with this as I am choosing how to position myself and consciously omitting material that might be too personal/mundane/not fit in with the point I am trying to make. People who know me – either as a friend or via the electronic fantasy land that is facebook – will recognize the persona of Reese’s Rants but what about someone who has stumbled across the blog by accident? What will the performance say to them? Will it make them return? Blimey, I do sound incredibly needy now *rolls eyes and resists typing some cheesy internet ’emoticon’.*
Where Buckingham departs from many commentators is that he believes that the online performance is extremely similar to the many performances we enact in our so called real lives. Off the top of my head I can list the identities of wife, mother, daughter, student, teacher, neighbour, employee, friend, campaigner – and I’m sure there are many more out there.
Then there are past identities.
Look at this picture of me aged 17:
And here I am aged about 25:
I probably have happier memories of the second picture, dating from the mid-90s, where I obviously fancied myself like rotten – judging by the shades and ridiculous pout. However, the 80s picture is a fantastic period piece. It went down a storm when I put it on facebook a few years ago – yes, that is my natural hair colour and yes, the hair does have its own postcode (sits back and waits for the inevitable “Did you grow up in High Barnet?” comments).
I kind of posted these pictures for fun, but also to make a point; namely that our identities are constantly shifting and the product of historical forces. As I’ve already explained, I believe that my aspirations were shaped by what has been described as “free market feminism” (see previous post) and much of my identity tied in with this very historically specific (and deeply political) creed. We are creatures of culture and history and our identities and the limits of our choices reflect this. Maybe it is precisely that our lives are so circumscribed that creating an online persona seems so exciting; however, the idea that our creations are somehow beyond politics or history is pure delusion.
This point is also made by Neil Selwyn in his 2009 paper: Challenging educational expectations of the social web: a web 2.0 far? He takes very much the skeptic’s view, critiquing the hype that social networking and user generated content will revolutionize learning; as he rightly points out, much that is posted on social networks is banal and uninteresting and also that internet creatives are much like other creatives – white, male, over-privileged etc etc.
This position basically makes sense to me, but I think he being a little bit too cynical; by rejecting social media as the emperor’s new clothes he may be underestimating its appeal to students. At the college where I work, students are asked to create a blog, where they can write about themselves and also showcase bits of video, animation, surveys, photographs and even written work that they are proud of. Even students who struggle to remain motivated seem to enjoy the challenge of creating a blog and like having their own online space to display their work (and receive comments from other people). They take it seriously and do good stuff – as is reported in the 2004 article by Stephen Downes about Canadian High School students.
I wanted to take this module not just because I’m an internet addict, but because I also believe it will feed into my professional practice. Writing this blog has made me much more confident about the medium and I hope I will be able to share my enthusiasm with confidence. But is it the real me? Quite frankly, who knows (and I doubt anyone really cares either).