Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Postmodernism Revisited

It's kinda weird what pops up when you search for images tagged "Postmodernism." Weird, but cool:

This picture fits in with Postmodernism because under this theory, interpretation is left open. There is no set, specific meaning, and there are multiple ways to view one thing.

Tracking Down Postmodernist Ideas

Yesterday, after I blogged about Zach Waggoner's book and his ideas about identity and video game avatars, I decided to take a closer look at other things that Waggoner might be working on. This was the idea of my Professor, Gideon Burton, who helped me find an online syllabus for an upper-level English class Waggoner is teaching at ASU, Video Game Theory. Looking at the syllabus, I noticed that Waggoner had assigned reading from Sherry Turkle called "Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet." Turkle is a sociologist and the Professor of Social Studies and Technology at MIT. I read an overview of her arguments in this book, and ran into some interesting ideas, not all of which I agree with.

Turkle's Studies
Turkle basically argues that a computer screen allows a user to connect to the events on the screen and "suspend disbelief." But here's the catch. Turkle believes that this suspension of disbelief lasts after a person is done looking at a computer. A computer user's real life becomes entangled in Postmodernism as well, and "reality becomes what is referred to as "RL" -- "Real Life" -- which is just another role-playing game." In effect, Turkle is arguing that the internet and computers render people incapable of believing in the reality of, well, anything. This total lack of meaning and comprehensibility is very Postmodernist, and so it makes a lot of sense that Turkle also argues that "a unified self is...fiction."

Room for Reconciliation?
So, while Turkle does definitely argue against any semblance to a singularity of identity, which I believe can exist by containing multiplicity, I do think that my ideas and Turkle's are not mutually exclusive. Turkle said that, through the internet, "we do not feel compelled to rank or judge the elements of our multiplicity. We do not feel compelled to exclude what does not fit." The author of the overview stated "once that is accomplished, the self is prepared to play out all its fantasies..." Hm. So you have here an acceptance of multiple identities, which then leads to a "self" that is capable of making choices. Sounds pretty close to my original thesis about online identity. Who knew that a Postmodernist sociologist and I would ever agree?

Little Side Rant
Now that I've found a bit of agreement between my ideas and those of Sherry Turkle, I do want to highlight some of the ways in which we disagree. Both Turkle and I think there can be some blurring between online and offline self, but I think that this can be a positive thing, because it means that people are, in a way, trying to stay close to their offline selves, even if they are utilizing multiple identities to do so. But Turkle's arguments lead to a sense of "apathy" where we "cease asking how we are being manipulated by simulations." I argue that the internet allows us to be the manipulaTORS, not the manipulaTED. That's a big difference. Also, like I've stated above, Turkle sees the internet as a place where there is an "effort to "deconstruct" or "deactualize" reality." I think that identity experimentation can strengthen offline identity, not render it completely meaningless. Turkles ideas may lead to belief in "a world in which little is demanded of us; in which the stakes of life aren't so large, and the consequences of action aren't so final."

I don't agree with that. I believe our actions matter. This is why I argue for active identity creation.

Some Preliminary Conclusions
And I guess that will end up being my main argument. As I ponder wrapping up some of these conclusions later this week (with the knowledge that I haven't really finished learning everything or deciding what I think about all facets of the online identity issue), I know that there's one thing I think: the internet does not render us powerless. We must be active people, capable people, responsible people. We form an identity out of multiple facets because from learning and forming who we are, we become responsible for the overall identity we create.

1 comment:

  1. I have been also been looking at postmodernism (and post-postmodernism). Cultural critic Alan Kirby theorizes that new technology, including video gaming, has killed postmodernism and ushered in a new era which he calls digimodernism. Here is the introduction to his book called Digimodernism: http://www.alanfkirby.com/Introduction.pdf This seems to run counter to Turkle's idea that new technology has intensified postmodernism.