I’ve been thinking a lot about personal branding and identity, especially as it applies to being on the internet. Businesses make a brand so that people keep buying that brand. That brand is what they are.
But I kind of think that idea breaks down when you tell someone to brand themselves on the internet. Moving past the idea that I’m metaphorically stabbing myself with a hot poker, nobody is just one thing on the internet. I play a different role depending on whether or not I’m communicating through Facebook, Twitter, or this Blog. Once I write something, once I’ve typed something into a box online, it doesn’t belong to me anymore but gets sent away over the internet. Pieces of me, playing different roles, get scattered to the winds. Is it really possible to have a single, “branded” identity? Is my online identity the sum of what Google finds for those who search?
I think we’re going to have to invent a new way of defining digital identity, based on both our physical persons and our digital persons. I don’t think it can be the sum of all those persona, or forcing all your roles to line up as one solid idea, so I think that “Identity” is going to have to be something else entirely. Some new way of defining ourselves that takes into account our constant flux of roles and spaces.
Now that i think of it, this isn’t a new idea. Buddhists have been saying for years that there is no such thing as a single self, that “The individual self, or what we might call the ego, is more correctly thought of as a by-product of the skandhas.” Skandhas are the pieces that make up existence, and it doesn’t sound too different from our digital selves, the idea that bits of ourselves align in certain circumstances to form an impermanent identity, then fall away when finished.
I wonder what else Buddhism might have to say about the Internet…
An interesting look at the power of language over our lives, or more specifically, how we think about our world.
Mind powers and Machines!
A valid threat. Good to see the international stage recognizing it.
When I was in high school, in the ancient days between 1998 and 2002, I remember hearing from my nerd friends about something called “Imperial Diku MUD.” They explained to me that it was a kind of role-playing game, or RPG, conducted in a chat room. There were no pictures or anything, just text and people communicating with each other in this chatroom, pretending to be dragon people or elves or wizards and things like that. Now, I play those kinds of games on the tabletop or tv screen all the time (well maybe not so much while I’m in grad school…), but the question I think is interesting is how even when technology was so limited to text, it still acted as a venue for people connect.
People were playing RPGs before computers really caught on, but it’s interesting to think how technology has changed the way things work. Where do those changes come from? Do the new machines change us? I know that people in Shakespeare’s day didn’t all know how to write, but to compensate, they had fantastic memory and could recall a whole lot more than we’re used to today. Has the invention of the computer, writing even, let our memory-muscles wane? Or are we simply diverting that energy that we’re saving by using the computer into other pursuits?
Or does it go the other way? New technology doesn’t come out of nowhere to change our lives, it’s the result of the things around it. Airplanes didn’t exist until one came out of a bike shop. Computers didn’t exist until we tried to organize data in new ways. We invent new technologies out of necessity and perhaps serendipity, but we’re still the ones in control, right?
I think it’s probably a little bit of both. Technologies seem to keep happening, to keep being generated by human activity, but once we have a new technology in play, we adapt it and adapt to it to reshape the world around us. But I sure do enjoy the new ways to play that technology has to offer.
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Will Bebout, and I am currently a Graduate Teaching Assistant at Virginia Tech, pursuing my Masters of Arts in English. I teach English classes to the incoming freshmen in addition to handling my workload of graduate courses. In my spare time, I am a nerd obsessed with comic books, fantasy, science fiction, books in general, movies, and video games, so I am desperately looking for a job that has something to do with any or all of those things (you know, one day).
What hardware do you use?
My first current bit of hardware is my iPad (the “New iPad” when I originally bought it, but I don’t think that applies anymore…). I bought so that I could save paper and ink by having all of my documents in one place, but without having to drag my laptop everywhere. As for my laptop, I have since upgraded it to a Macbook Pro, which I also picked up this past fall, but a month or two after I got the iPad. I had been using a Gateway computer to run windows for years, but the laptop was reaching its last legs. It worked, but it was so slow, and with the number of papers I had to crank out, waiting for word to save was not cutting it. I had a few vocal friends who encouraged me to try out a Mac, so when my laptop got so slow that I switched to my iPad to get things done, I knew it was time for a change.
I don’t own a smart phone yet, because I don’t need one yet. My current phone is an old, pay-as-you-go flip phone, but it’s cheap and I can talk and text as I need to. Any data I would need I can get on my iPad just as effectively, so I can’t justify the upgrade. Yet.
For software, I browse with Firefox, it has served me well over the years. My VT/Gmail address is routed to both my Macbook and my iPad, so I can check everything that way. I use the Microsoft Office suite to get things done, Word to type up the many papers I have to write, and Excel to track everything so I don’t have to keep it in my head (it’s cluttered enough up there as it is!). Dropbox has been very useful for transferring things between pad and ‘puter. I have the Twitter and Facebook apps on my iPad, which are very convenient, as well as iBooks and the Kindle reader to hold onto course materials. I’ve downloaded the WordPress app and the Evernote App because of the recommendations of others, but I honestly haven’t had a lot of time to dig into them and get to know how they work or what I would use them for.
What would be your dream setup?
Well, as my memex post from before shows, I’m kind of a minimalist when it comes to technology. I want to always have access to what I need, but I always want it to be unobtrusive when I don’t need it. I would want a device that has all the utility of the laptop with all the portability of the iPad. I also want it to be able to connect to the Internet anywhere. For free. I also want a magic room that I can put all of my books into, and then fold that room into my pocket so I can carry it with me wherever I go. That’s not too much to ask for, is it?
I think it’s pretty amazing how much technology has changed over the course of my lifetime. The Internet didn’t exist for me until I was in sixth grade and we had a computer lab at my school. We had a house computer that was functional by then, but I didn’t have my own computer until 2002, when I went to college for the first time. Comparing my time in college then and now, I wonder if technology, the Internet, smartphones, and the sheer proliferation of information, have made certain systems obsolete.
Mostly I’ve been thinking of education; how we go to pre-school to learn how we go to school (seriously, they’re just being acculturated to the test taking environment and taught not to make a mess!), go to real school for a while, then to college maybe. And when I say real school, the definition of school varies. I went to public school, and when I passed through in the late 90s, we didn’t use that much tech. I don’t know what the private schools had (other than money), and home-schoolers have a different experience entirely, but while I like to think I learned some things from high school, mostly I think it was for socialization, acculturation, meeting people and learning better ways to not make a mess.
College was where it got serious. College was where I was actually going to learn stuff that people would pay me to do (Theoretically. I did choose the liberal arts, after all). The idea I had in my head of education was a very linear one. School prepared me for college, where I exchanged money for knowledge (or rather, loans for money that I then exchanged for knowledge, but that’s another story), and by that accreditation, I was made employable.
But knowledge isn’t a commodity of schools exclusively anymore, if it ever was. I thought I had to go to school to learn something new, but that isn’t the case anymore. Anything I could ever hope to learn is online, whether in books that I can download from Amazon, TED talks, blogs, or actual college classes that have been made available online. It falls to me to practice it, which means it’s not entirely about accessibility of knowledge, but it does bring up the question of what purpose does college serve?
It’s not information. I can find that online. By sort of democratizing knowledge, I think that technology has turned colleges into what the other levels of school are: Realms of socialization. We go there to meet people, extend our network of influence and contacts, we learn how others behave with the knowledge, and form new social networks. Going to college doesn’t grant knowledge anymore, it certainly doesn’t guarantee jobs (a thought that will keep me up at night between now and graduation next spring…), it provides access to those networks that we want to break into.
This also highlights a shortcoming of technology, though. Knowledge isn’t enough. Access to knowledge isn’t enough. Learning to apply that knowledge is something that must be practiced with others, learning situational awareness comes from being with other people. No matter how advanced technology gets, no matter how fast our access, people and social relationships will still be an essential part of equation for learning, and for life.
The above depiction is what my Memex device would look like if technology were adequate to my wild imagination. What’s a Memex, you ask? Well after World War Two, scientists were speculating about what to do with themselves, so a guy named Vannevar Bush said “Why don’t we collect all human knowledge and make it easily accesible?” In this article, Bush describes a machine called the Memex. While the physical description sounds pretty cumbersome, the functioning of this device is quite prescient of the internet and modern computing technology.
Instead of a cumbersome, desk-sized device, I drew from the science fiction stories i’ve heard/seen/played and dreamed up what my Memex machine would look like. I discovered that I’m quite the minimalist when it comes to technology. My one-gadget-beats-all has means of generating it’s own power (via walking or something like that), can access anything from anywhere, and displays through my glasses. Small order right?
It makes me marvel at how much technology has changed in my lifetime (i.e., since the 80s), and wonder where else technology will go in the coming years. People from the 50s thought we would have flying cars and Star Trek stuff. Now we DO have Star Trek stuff! Will technology seek to set itself apart from our current aesthetic, being all flashy as the next big thing? Or will it seek to look just like life as usual, be smaller and hidden rather than big and attention grabbing? A sheet of paper that’s actually a laptop computer, or maybe computers the size of skyscrapers to compute unimaginable things?
I don’t think people will change. Technologies will bring new avenues of expression, of course, but the content and the context will still always be people. Whatever computers look like in 50 years or however differently we connect to our vast catalogs of information, technology will always be a medium to be filled with human existence. Of course, maybe I’m biased because I’m one of those fleshy human things.
Well, I have my own official Blog now too! I feel like i never have anything interesting to post though…