Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I Finally Figured Out Identity

All right, to recap: I want to prove that the native/immigrant metaphor is pertinent to describing the digital age. However, this does NOT just occur because people can be easily split into two categories: people who "speak the language", and those who don't. Rather, this metaphor is valid because the children of digital immigrants--the "natives"--are capable of functioning within a singular identity(see this post for an explanation). This is also referred to as a "persistent" identity (see "Anonymity and Online Identity," courtesy of my classmate Neal). The children of everyday immigrants are capable of functioning both as Americans and as multicultural children.

Ok, now did you notice what I did in the paragraph above? I'm comparing digital natives and the children of real immigrants. I'm saying they are the same. BUT digital natives can have SINGULAR identities between spaces, while children of immigrants are capable of having a MULTIcultural identity.

HUH?!?! How is that similar?

So, here's the paradox, and here's how I think the two fit together. Both digital natives and the children of immigrants are capable of reconciling multiple identities in order to form one singular identity as a whole.

Sound plausible? Make sense?

Ok, so here's what I've been struggling with for awhile, and here's what I need feedback on: who really cares? So I found a couple of uncommon parallels for the digital native metaphor. So I'm manipulating the metaphor and applying it in a way that usually isn't looked at. So what?

And here's where literature comes in. The Joy Luck Club is about the relationships between mothers from China who raise daughters in the US. Um, perfect for what I'm talking about, right? A mother in the book says that she has two faces: American and Chinese, and "If you show the one, you must always sacrifice the other." So here, you can definitely see the multiple identity phenomenon, but there is no hope for reconciliation. BUT at the end of the book, June, a daughter, says that she used to fear "mutating" into something Chinese. But she doesn't just mutate into something Chinese, something different than what she was. Instead, she finds a part of herself that is Chinese--her family--and then reconciles that identity into her whole identity. A multiple identity is able to become a singular.

BUT... is this valid? Can I say that we, as humans, desire to reconcile multiple identities into one singular whole? This is what we write about in literature. This is what immigrant children do. And this is what digital natives do. Is that enough of a "So what?" Is this idea just too out there?

What do you guys think? Do human beings, creatures of multiple identities, inherently desire to reconcile those identities into one complete whole? Is this some abstract reason why immigrant children see themselves as strongly ethnic, yet also American? Is this one unspoken-of reason why the native/immigrant metaphor works for the digital world?

Real question I'm asking: Am I making any sense here?


  1. I think just about everybody has multiple identities, or rather multiple sides of identity, to reconcile. We all have different social circles that we are influenced by and interact with, and therefore we have different ways of speaking and acting. Sometimes people have larger dichotomies between different lifestyles and keep them very compartmentalized. Other people try to find a balance or a middle place between two things (perhaps Mormon feminists are an example of this, as discussed in Stacie's blog? http://staciefarmer.blogspot.com/2010/05/feminism-in-mormanism.html, that might be worth looking into). I guess what your getting at is a pretty fundamental human theme. So yes, the questions you are exploring are valid and understandable, but I think they need to be a bit more specific. I think most of us are in the same boat though.

  2. I understand your thoughts, Amanda, but just for the sake of playing devil's advocate, do you think most individuals find that sense of singularity? I just read Chris's latest post which discusses the use of avatars as a sort of "spirit animal" where individuals can create a separate manifestation of themselves. Especially regarding your digital native, isn't the use of online avatars proof that we still fragment our personalities into multiples?

  3. I really like your thoughts here Heather, and I think your comparisons of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants to Immigrants and their kids in our society is a very important one. Why? Let me give it a shot:

    It's hard for immigrants to integrate, and it can be hard for their kids. But if we can apply helpful learning techniques from one paradigm (Prensky's Digital Native stuff) to another (literal immigrants and their families) that really needs help, there's a lot of value in that.

    Basically, I think your "so what" could be that you are exploring ideas for inclusion and integration that are important in any educational forum, and important for us to understand as we participate in educating others within and without official educational channels.

    On the subject of multiple identities, you might find some interesting things in what the theorist Mikhail Bakhtin writes in his "Discourse on the Novel." Amongst other things, he explains that as we move from one language (way of speaking/thinking) to another, we discover that not all languages suit us equally well:

    "It is as if they put themselves in quotation marks against the will of the reader."

    In other words, we sometimes find that even though we use a certain language system, it is as though we are just quoting it, and not using it organically and originally.

    A bibliography for Bakhtin:

    Introduction to Mikhail M. Bakhtin. In The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Lietch. New York: Norton, 2001. 1187-89

    Bakhtin, Mikhail. From "Discourse in the Novel." In The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. New York: Norton, 2001. 1197-1202, 1211-20.