Our Cyber Self
Our immersion in technology and new media has led to an evolution of the human; the axe that turned into the pen that turned into the iPhone. Cyborg Anthropology – in which new media is a tool that enhances our lives, a mental extension of self which we can use to communicate faster, better, and further.
Our online self is our second self and just as we look after our physical self we must look after our online self. Within reality we perform ‘maintenance’ to ensure that the physical self we present to the world will be well received. A good impression can help form friendships and business connections.
Now we perform this maintenance upon our digital selves, by taking time to upload the best profile picture, the amusing status update. We are just as concerned about how we are perceived online as we are in reality – perhaps even more so, because online we have a larger platform. Our maintenance of our online self is comparable to maintaining a brand.
“What started off as an address book to find lost friends and schoolmates has turned into a massive self-branding exercise: ‘it’s awesome to be me’”, as the Guru of New Media and Network Culture, Geert Lovink, has written. When we use social networking sites our identity is performed and the self whom we are presenting is selective.
Like a brand we emphasise the best characteristics and hide those that are flawed. By de-tagging photographs and deciding who we will affiliate ourselves with through friend requests, we are crafting an online self who is representative of who we desire to be and not necessarily who we actually are. The danger in this concept is that we become obsessed with our online self and how it is perceived, most likely because it is easier to control and the performance becomes better than reality.
Lovink also discusses the “self-management wave manifesting in online portfolios, dating sites, and Facebook” as a form of public pressure. By dispersing our selves online we fracture our identity; becoming a sarcastic tweeter who also posts art on Tumblr, vlogs on YouTube and posts holiday photos on Facebook. Each of these platforms caters to different demographics and trying to keep these online ‘friends’ can become taxing. Such is the need to maintain the online self that it begins to leak into reality.
The effect of the image is that it represents the constant vigilance in waiting for the next notification. This links back to the notion of the online self as a brand as we constantly need feedback from the consumers of our profiles. We also promote the online self, something that we cannot do in reality. On Instagram the use of ‘Like for Like’ and ‘Follow for Follow’ is similar to a business merger as two brands conspire to promote the other or form a partnership which is mutually beneficial.
The concept of anybody being able to produce and promote on new media is critiqued in Andrew Keen’s The Cult of the Amateur in which he critiques the idea that providing everyone with the ability to create is generating an “endless digital forest of mediocrity”. If we contrast this theory to that of Clay Shirky’s “Cognitive Surplus”, in which he argues that, despite the ends to which we put our tech, at least we are engaged and being creative. This is complete contrast to Keen’s theory of the ‘amateur taking over” because as Shirky argues, using the example of the Haitian earthquake, social networking and philanthropy can change the world. The utilisation of new media for whatever purpose, bad or good is now so ubiquitous that we do not even notice our usage.
We now check Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, as habit; a ‘muscle memory’ as ingrained into our psyche as tying our shoelaces.