Saturday, 1 December 2012

Reality Stretched: Identity versus the Digital World

This post is a response to reading the chapter 'Collaborative Selves, Collaborative Worlds: Identity in the Information Age' by Sherry Turkle, taken from the book Electronic Collaboration in the Humanities.

This chapter blends discussions of psychoanalytics, with which I am familiar from Modernist and Postmodernist debates, and role-playing virtual games. It simultaneously handles the debates concerning surface and depth of identities in an online world. One could also refer to these in 'techy' terms as front end and back end identities.

An area which caused me some concern was the apparent lack of discussion in this chapter on actual collaboration. All of the examples given, concerning both 'Case' and 'Shakespeare' lacked an apparent group element. Therefore the chapter became slightly confused in linking its discussions of identity back to the many, other than the multiplicity of identities theory. I felt that Turkle got slightly lost in conveying the ideas of the MUD and telling the story of Case, letting the main focus of collaborative work fall flat. While I understood that this chapter is probably an introductory, 'setting the scene', piece of writing, I did not think that its message jelled fully with the overarching themes of this book.

I found the metaphor for Windows to be of great use in visualising the multiple self that Turkle was arguing for. The notion that every window open on our desktop conveys a separate identity rang quite true to me and I'm sure for many. For example, on numerous occasions, I will have various academic windows open, speaking in my scholarly voice, while at the same time I will have my personal Facebook open to speak to my friends, in my 'casual' voice. The fusion of technology and identity is at the core of what Digital Humanities if trying to assemble. Julia Fraser conceives that:
 Digital humanities as a whole has revealed precisely how interwoven and mutually consequential 'technical' and 'disciplinary' standards often are (Collaborative Research in the Digital Humanities, 68).
This piece reminded me of the struggle within DH, to merge the identity of the humanities, with the imposing egos of both technology and the regulation of scholarship.

The emotional connection of Case to his MUD character Mairead is something which I can identify with, although on a smaller scale than gender dynamics. As I have mentioned in a previous post, my last foray into gaming was playing the Sims 1,2 and 3. These were probably the only games that I played thoroughly enough to comment on. I agreed with Turkle's example because I did have slight emotional reactions to my own gaming experiences. The Sims has a similar concept in that you can play as a completely different persona to your true self. I felt proud when my Sim got a promotion in their job, or had a child, mainly because I had progressed in my gaming abilities.

Arguably, these types of gaming can act as a method of escapism, in the sense that the player usually acts out   something which they are unable or unwilling to attain in their own life at that moment.
This conjures the question of whether digital identity is in danger of becoming miskewed?
It also begs the question of whether digital identity can be taken as seriously as our own identity,which is proven on our passports?

The Digital Multiplicity of Personas serves to fuel the debate on facing up to reality.

Works Cited

Deegan, Marilyn, Willard McCarty. Collaborative Research in the Digital Humanities: A Volume in Honour of Harold Short. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Ltd, 2012. Print.


  1. I found your response to the article interesting and informative. Not having read the article itself makes it quite difficult to make much of an observation but I think your concern over the question of the lines between actual identity and vertual or gameing identity becoming blured was well founded. I have felt that quite a lot of the reading so far on this module is aspirational with not a lot of substance as to how these aspirations might become reality in the real recession suffering world we presently find our selves in. As to facing up to reality as it is, I think its more a case of facing reality as you presently percieve it.

  2. Thanks Dan. I agree with your thoughts on the reading, some of it appears to be situated in 'virtual reality' rather than practicality, however it is still important to explore these realms. The piece at the end was not my opinion on facing up to reality, I'm actually quite a dreamer, rather I was arguing that the article adds fuel to the fire of the realist cause. The picture was just to back up the closing statement,rather than being my own opinion.

  3. I recently wrote a piece which quoted my experiences of texts by Nathalie Sarraute with regard to the notion of the "Self" and the "Other" and how the latter possibly defines the former, which makes one question if there really is any such thing as the "Self". I wonder how all of this works under the new influence of the internet, social media and blogging.