Inventing the Self

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A scary proposition…

November 19th, 2013 · 2 Comments

The arguments presented by this week’s readings are compelling.  Ito embraces the advances of the technology, and his arguments seem more neutral and methodical that Turkle’s. Ito’s observations are surprisingly  simple: (Ex.) Gaming represents the central form of early computer experience for kids….

The dominant approach to studies of gaming and learning has been the relationship between the gamer and the text.. The game has not directly or explicitly taught them technical skills, but game play has embedded young people in a set of practices…

Gaming has gradually become established as one of the dominant forms of entertainment of our time, there has been widespread debate over the merits of the medium… (Echoes Newton Minnow’s comments about television in the early 1960s in Abandoned in Wasteland)

But while I am impressed with Ito’s study, my own feelings about technology are closer to Turkle’s: “The devices in our pockets are so psychologically powerful they not only change what we do, but who we are.” (Although I’m not sure it’s a bad thing)

Perhaps the virtual world does pose a danger for young children or developing adolescents. I remember reading Erikson’s Identity: Youth and crisis, in which he calls identity formation is the chief concern of the adolescent. At the time writing (1968), Erikson named peers as having the most impact on a person’s sense identity. How might  the advent of technology influence this fundamental cornerstone of human development? A child who spends all their time playing computer games might not develop important social skills; an adolescent who actually believes that their online persona is real may later develop identity issues.

Turkle says that “The virtual environments were most compelling because they offered opportunities for a social life, for performing as the self you wanted to be… So what kind of identity does a 16 year old develop with so much time spent in websites like Facebook as opposed to just hanging out with friends?  Is an online “performed self” less genuine than a real time authentic self?

The other dangerous idea I think is that people feel their technology to be an extension of themselves.  If an adolescent grows up believing this, how might their self image be impaired? Did people see television in the same way in the 1950’s, or radio in the 1920’s? Are those forms of technology so embedded in our experience that their effects are no longer noticed? That is a scary proposition.

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November 15th, 2013 · 1 Comment



I thought I would share this in reaction to the “information is beautiful” site. I think it might be hard to see the image. I suggest clicking on the link.


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The Silence of the Hop-Scotchers

November 15th, 2013 · 6 Comments

I’m only about halfway into Turkel (I haven’t read chapter 12 yet) but I find myself having a hard time reconciling my experience with what she’s saying. For me, this distance is not an issue of accuracy, but of opinion; I can’t agree with the conclusions Turkel is drawing, even if her examples might resonate. A few of her points (especially about multi-tasking, or seeking solace in virtual worlds) are good ones, but then I’m disappointed when she uses these moments of analysis to further her techno-pessimism. I was careful not to write Turkel’s and my differences off as indicative of  the generation gap, however I’m starting to think that there is credence to this issue I’m trying to skirt, that maybe Turkel’s reliance on doing things the “old-fashioned” way and the persistence of slight errors of misreading the methods in which people utilize social networks is evidence of irreconcilable interpretive communities. I could play a rapidly dangerous drinking game that revolved around counting the moments in the essay where Turkel reminisces about a technology-free time, juxtaposed against a negative example of people and their machinery “nowadays”. I wonder if a techno-ubi sunt genre of poetry is not too far off, with aging “lords” and “ladies” bemoaning the lost Tumblr-less summers of yesteryear?

Facetiousness aside, I do wonder about how different generations understand technology and its impact on socializing. Unlike Turkel, I would argue that texting and IM-ing are, in-fact, that “old wine in new bottles”, if the old wine stands in for corresponding and keeping in contact and the new bottle is this social networking technology. I might not have the historical perspective Turkel has, but its hard for me to see how advances in computers and computer availability and access are not the latest step in an evolutionary chain that includes the printing press, the development of official mail carrying institutions, telegraphs, etc. Is that crazy, or uninformed? Advances in technology make connectivity faster and more frequent – this seems to me the most basic core of what’s happening here, of what’s always happening.

I preferred the Ito chapter, as Pascoe was able to distance himself from judging and relied on these interviews to extrapolate different modes of interaction possible through Myspace and IM, and what these interactions looked like. These examples also lined up with my experience, but Pascoe’s research was less prone than Turkel’s to misquote or mistake phrases or color observed practices with obvious bias (“The Twitter” comes to mind. My mom says things like that.) People do seem horrified by the idea of a lived experience taking place online, or mystified by the seemingly  arbitrary, complex social codes of networking outlets like Facebook, but I’d once again point to past lives lived in correspondence, to the complicated combination of private and public cues and modes that have always ruled courtship and dating.

But I suppose my problem with Turkel’s bias could be applied to me as well. By the time I really began to socialize in a public sphere bigger than my classmates and close family, I had internet and texting access. So, right at the onset of adolescence, I was already plugged into the grid. What’s more, I had a Gameboy Color (the dark purple one) well before I was a teenager, or had even really been outside my home – so I wonder how much of how I navigate and interact with the “real” world is shaped by formative experiences with exploring the “fake” worlds of Pokemon Blue and Legends of Zelda: A Link to the Past. If you look long enough into the Matrix, does the Matrix look back? Can we see outside of our biased perspectives ever, even with acclimation and learning and contact with new ideas?

In her Introduction, Turkel states “If the problem is that too much technology has made us busy and anxious, the solution will be another technology that will organize, amuse, and relax us.” as the confused viewpoint towards robot companions. Fear of a Skynet Planet notwithstanding, I would once again (and for the last time) say that this has always been the role of technology, to mediate and replace. Some of the discomfort with these new “plugged-in” people seems to be the uncanny closeness I discussed earlier in class this week, of a realization that maybe humans are machines too. Not that we have become mechanized or assimilated, but that we always were connected, at a very basic level, to our tools. Inextricably so.

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From toes to hairline.

November 13th, 2013 · Comments Off on From toes to hairline.

When discussing Damasio earlier this semester the body seemed present in the understanding of the self, Damasio’s first two levels of self seemed in more direct relation with the body than the autobiographical self. In some sense Noë also kept the body in his rhetoric with the environmental factors of the self. Now the body becomes the protagonist and the rhetoric turns out to be statistical and machine like. This in my opinion links perfectly with the identity and varying personalities of self standpoint, which was viewed mostly throughout October.

I have been an athlete all my life so I’ve been close to all this kind of body monitoring to keep track of progress, and this has brought close to understanding how different emotions affect body performance and vice versa. Different body states respond to different changes in the environment. Different identities and different personalities, respond to different environmental aspects. Where am I going with all this? Yes primarily that the self is greatly influenced by its surroundings, but also trying to point out the fact that our whole organism is what compromises the self. This is what I have mostly made out of Inventing the Self, the self in not in the mind, or in the brain, or in any specific place. Every single particle and molecule in our bodies, in some way or another contributes to selfness. And for some reason viewing it with that sense, makes it impossible to find.

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November 13th, 2013 · 1 Comment

McCarthy and Wright’s intent for the book was not to develop a theory of experience with technology. They suggested that the experience can interact with sensual, emotional, volitional and imaginative aspects. People should be able to understand the felt experience with technology. This theory is hard for me to understand, but case studies or examples from the MIT technology review and the Quantified Self organization made me understand a lot more about it.

I track data daily to record my sleep quality, skin condition, and expenses, as Wolf does, just I don’t bother tracking my food calories because I feel that it is too painful. My grandma recommended my mom to record her blood pressure every week before, and my grandpa carries a heart tracker to record the number of heartbeats. I never thought it could be a way to the understand self in a fashion similar to windows or mirrors. After Wolf’s talk, which is like a knock of head, I realize it is very related to self-knowledge and self-improvement. I feel like decisions I am not intended to make for self-improvement for social life actually help with it.
Similar to Wolf, Joans’s experience with how to manage stress also advocates that we use information to be more aware of the self and use the data to improve the self. By knowing our own condition, we have a sense of control and power to do things about it. Knowing what we are doing and what is good for the self is a different approach to understand the self. Joans also provides a good example about Damasio’s mind, brain and body: we feel stress, stress affects the brain, the brain increases the heart rate, and we will feel tired eventually. However, since we are so used to release stress (like Joans) and fall asleep (the MIT technology review) by using these technological tools, will this make us lose the ability to do self-adjustment?

I believe different people will choose different things to track, such as Kitty Ireland’s grandma (one video from the QS website) who made a daily about boys she had crash on or relationship with. We record or keep track on things we which feel are important. I think, for things that we don’t record, we either don’t care or feel more private so as not to write them down. Data represents pieces from our life, and it could conduct us through a lifetime. When the lifetime turns into a story, it may help to play out an autobiography—a way to understand self. Facebook, the social technology product, can also be considered a record of life. These details, indeed, make up life.

McCarthy and Wright used an example in chapter one regarding high student and text messaging, which makes me think which way we express the self is more real: words or voices. We often say, “You sound like you are not okay today, what happened?” Emotion leaks through voices. Many arguments happen by incautious usage of words because sometimes people speak words without having second thoughts and they may not express themselves correctly. This could be avoided by sending text messages, which will allow people have time to rethink words they want to use to represent themselves. However, the voice truly represents how we actually feel under that certain moment.

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Math is something you do, not who you are…

November 12th, 2013 · 6 Comments

The idea of quantified-self has to be the least thorough theory we’ve explored. Saying that I am 5.5 feet tall, have an average bp of 110/70 and sleep approx. 6hrs a night is no more useful in defining my ‘self’ as it is to say that I’m of Italian heritage, born in Queens and like Vanilla ice-cream.

Sure all of these things are details that have some value but none of them are, nor do the sum of them equal, who I am. None of them give any clarity to the sort of thing we generally mean when we speak about self and self-hood. They don’t show what distinguishes my ‘self’ from another Italian-american self with 110/70 bp.

I can understand what the videos from this week are getting at, and can even agree that this kind of knowledge can be immeasurably valuable for things like managing ones health, coping with stress etc. But combining the quantifiables of life into a theory of self just seems absurd. At least in the case of neuroscience, which I also feel falls short as a theory of self, can explain, or attempt to explain, thoughts, emotions, individual frame of reference and many other things that simply can’t be quantified but, I think, are obviously important to a study and theory of self.

Its easy to see, esp. in today’s society, how many people can be caught up in this, for lack of a better word, fad of quantifing self. Numbers are easy to share and understand relationally. They make us feel better about managing our health in a hypochondriac society. They make goals easy to set and follow (whether its getting 100 on a test, losing 30lbs or making $50,000 a year). Maybe on a more subconscious level, it even gives us the sense that all problems can be solved (like a math problem) or that everything will balance out (like an equation). But just because its an easy answer doesn’t make it a good answer. Quantified self is as silly an idea, to me at least, as numerology (in fact I’m not sure there’s that much of a difference since both assign meaning to numbers that just isn’t real).

Is quantifying life a useful tool? Absolutely, in many ways and areas it can be helpful.
Is it anything more than a tool? Is it a theory of self? Absolutely Not!

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Is technology an “I-it” relationship or an “I-thou” relationship?

November 12th, 2013 · 1 Comment

Last week, we discussed in class whether our involvement with “social media” encourages narcissism. On the surface, I believe we came to the conclusion that social networking sites like “Facebook” are perceived as a narcissistic enterprise. Whether true or not, I think characterizing the debate on social media in terms of “narcissism” is unproductive. I think the case can be made for both. What would be more worthwhile would be a look into the new types of experiences that modern technology enables.  Perhaps afterwards, we can return to the topic of narcissism.


This week’s readings “Technology as Experience” gives us a more productive way of talking about “social media.” McCarthy et. al.’s claim that modern technology enables formations of self-expression and forging relationships is apt. They argue that modern forms of communication “augments people’s ability to organize complex and busy work, family, and social lives. For many it also provides an opportunity to express themselves, their feelings and emotions, in ways not previously available to them.” (6). Rather than eroding relationships, text-messaging or “tweeting” provides opportunities to connect with others otherwise unreachable. If you know that a significant other has an important presentation or meeting, you can send instantaneous words of encouragement without interrupting their task.


Or, as I did this weekend, one can use “Facebook” for multi-dialogic engagement. Specifically, last week was “birthday week” for my girlfriend. I tried to make everyday meaningful. Around midnight, when my girlfriend was checking her “Facebook” “Happy Birthday Wishes,” I wrote on her wall, “Almost forgot, Happy Birthday!” I know this was silly. I was already celebrating her birthday with her. But I hadn’t yet wished her happy on her wall. I did this partly to get her attention. Direct communication wasn’t working. She was engrossed in thanking people for their comments as well as responding to her text messages. But also I wanted to engage her in a dialogue that would be otherwise impossible without this form of communication. We can communicate simultaneously through this technological medium and face to face. One doesn’t replace the other. In fact they add up to what McCarthy et. al.’s terms (borrowing from Bakhtin), “the unity of felt experience” (18). In McCarthy’s words, I take this to mean: “When we conceptualize technologies as experience, we are attempting to re-view technology by making visible aspects of experience of technology that would otherwise remain invisible” (20). In doing so, I can communicate with my girlfriend in contradictory ways through social media.


You could also argue that I was disciplining myself by powers of normalization, to use a Foucauldian reading. By admitting fault “Almost forgot” I was acknowledging publicly to the Facebook panopticon a failure to participate in the social norm of wishing “Happy Birthday” on the person’s wall. I know this has been especially important for myself at times. I would equate my self-worth and “popularity” by how many people would wish me happy birthday. As a quasi-public sphere, I have assigned value to how I represent myself and how others have perceived me. In addition, I had a friend who, on his birthday, checked his Facebook profile on his mobile every five minutes and announce who wished him happy birthday. He would also mention who hadn’t wrote on his wall. You could call this effect disciplinary-narcissism. As a reminder to all those with him, he takes note of who forgets his birthday. The act of forgetting is to sever the relationship. To not write on your significant other’s wall would be a defamation of this sacred social sphere. The absence of a “comment” would signify an irreparable rupture. Thus, Facebook also could represent a site of productive power where one must continually engage in this alternate form of relations so as not to commit social suicide or social alienation. We must actively promote ourselves, to act in a narcissistic manner, such as in updating our profile, liking other people’s comments, adding new pictures, so as to prevent the rupture of meaningful relationships. To engage with others through social media, in this light, is not dialogic but dialectic. Communication with others, commenting on another’s status, writing on another’s wall, is not to engage in the dialogue but to synthesize others in a perpetual self-promotion.


While this view can be argued, and I don’t think it necessarily is exclusive to McCarthy et. al.’s analysis, it does sufficiently undermine the “I-thou” characteristic of social media. To say that this form of media is only dialectic, makes invisible the felt experience where “I” exists in relation to “thou.” Martin Buber’s, a philosopher of Hasidism, notion of “I-thou” versus “I-it” rests on the assumption that “self-realization” comes out of “reciprocal individualism” (quoted from Rotenberg, 1978: 157-160). Martin Buber (1878-1965) understands this reciprocal individualism as emerging from the “dynamic sphere between person and person in dialogue” (Rotenberg, 1978: 158). I think it is important to note Buber’s influence on Bakhtin. While Bakhtin was at the hospital between 1967-1971 he was asked his feelings on Buber who recently paid him a visit. Bakhtin responds, “Buber is a philosopher. And I am very much in debted to him. In particular for the idea of dialogue. Of course, this is obvious to anyone who reads Buber” (see Joseph Frank’s “The voices of Mikhail Bakhtin” ff 2.2).


I think that the incorporation of technology in our lives becomes the narcissistic-disciplinary site when we engage it in an “I-it.” The “It,” Facebook in this case, is the primary concern. How does “It” my profile, my page, status updates, represent or reflect me, or “I.” An “I-It” relation causes us to care more about how many people are wishing us “happy birthday” than the “who” or the “thou.” McCarthy et. al.’s use of Bakhtin’s theory of “dialogics” becomes clearer in this light. “A dialogical perspective on sense making orients us to the idea that meaning is a process of bringing together different perspectives and, in this creative bringing together, forging understanding. Bakhtin refers to this as creative understanding” (18). In engaging social media not for the sake of “I-it” but for “I-thou,” that is to forge meaningful relationships, these mediums allow for a futuristically driven “creative understanding” of “self-realization” through “reciprocal individualism.” It is that dialogic encounter with open-ended possibilities (like we saw in Matias Viegener’s 2500 Random Things About Me Too). “Self-realization” is thus not fixed but open to dialogic encounters.

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Quantified Selfies

November 12th, 2013 · 1 Comment


I misspoke in class: Nicholas Felton was the person I was thinking of. I saw him speak earlier this year at the games & culture conference two5six. He is a graphic designer, and has achieved some notice for issuing yearly “reports” containing his personal data.

Feltron 2012 Activity

He has also designed a website that enables others to track and interact with their own data. “Begin collecting and exploring your data to reveal the bigger picture,” copy on the site implores. Curiously, when a group of us asked Felton about deploying this kind of data collection toward something like “accountability reports” for governments or other entities, he resisted wholesale. For him this was about quantifying the self, not the other. It was personal.

How big does the picture get when quantifying yourself?

McCarthy and Wright open an analysis of technology at the level of personal experience, or feeling. This was somewhat revelatory for me—and surprisingly novel given my own preoccupation with couching terms according to relational perspectives. I think it duly emphasized in their writing. There is indeed something personal in my interaction with my technologies, even (especially?) when I’m absorbed in public. What is that feeling?

It’s like I’m thinking private thoughts…on my phone.

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November 11th, 2013 · 1 Comment

The discussion this week on deploying technology to understand selfhood and experience make for an interesting comparison with the facebook manifesto from last week. Could Viegner’s seemingly tedious list-based work be conceived as quasi qualitative/quantitative data that tracks selfhood? After this week’s readings the truncated, segmented compositional structure of 2500 Things might be re-interpreted as less of an autobiography and more a series of points measured along a personal graph of experience – plotted during an HCI of one sort or another.

In their study of the human-technology relationship, McCarthy and Wright seek to discover meaningful applications in terms of various aspects of selfhood and experience.  They appraise facets of the people and technology interplay that include social and emotional experience without having to “reject the intellectual.” (McCarthy, Wright, 190). Their investigation of HCI, (Human Computer Interaction), questions the use of a cognitive approach which situates people in different contexts of thinking without regard for the qualitative aspects of both the person and the setting.  Their approach towards openness and “unfinalizability” seeks to expand upon social-theoretical work that centralizes identity and selfhood in the relationship between people and technology. These methods lean to “an orientation toward felt experience that emphasizes the ways in which people deal with routines.” (McCarthy, Wright, 191).

This way of using the routine of everyday life relates in some way with the motivation for quantitative self-knowledge. Gary Wolf said something like “the self is our operation center” and therefore tracking it can lead to more effective action in the world.  McCarthy and Wright talk about the need for technological design to be “dialogical” in order to deal with the ongoing becoming of the world- or a processual account of being. Designing technology in this manner is “an act of reframing experience in a way that points beyond the reframing” (196). In creating a mechanism for generating “self-knowledge” the Quantified Self movement attempts something similar. QS uses technology  “to weave together self-tracking tools with social networks and gaming, using the lessons of behavioral economics to keep users motivated enough to meet any health goals they’ve set for themselves” (Singer).

One other thing that I thought was interesting about the Quantified Self movement was the emergence of things like CureTogether, and other medical applications of gathering individual personal data to better understand maladies, on an experiential and perhaps practical level. I am not sure if this actually would make a difference in any sort of accurate way, given the likely unreliability of data aggregated from individual accounts.

In a cultural landscape of personal-detachment, something as basic as quantitative monitoring of everyday activities sounds like a logical tool for self-understanding. It has to start somewhere.

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I couldn’t help it. (25 + 3)

November 6th, 2013 · 1 Comment

1. I’m not sure I could ever live up to the possibility of being authentic for an audience – real or imaginary.
2. I think everyone’s just like me in that respect. It doesn’t even matter if you know who’s reading.
3. Or does Viegner’s bulleted narrative of self mean that he’s authentically created via the interaction between his hands typing, and my eyes reading?
4. Virtual is both imagined and real. I thought New York was big so I wouldn’t see people I cruised online.
5. The autistic boy lost in New York can’t speak. Lowboy was lost on the train too. He spoke to people only he could see.
6. I am writing for you, even if you don’t read this.
7. Ten out of ten doctors say you have a 100% chance of dying.
8. Facebook + Adderall + books make me forget a lot.
9. Viegner’s remembrance of his dad’s parrot reminded me of my dad’s African Grey parrot, Sunshine (I hate that name). It said “God is a great lady” and “I fly with the buddha” and “Go Gore, no Bush!” and made telephone ringing noises followed by “Hello? Oh hiiii!” We got Sunshine when I was 14 and my dad said we had to stop swearing in the house because African Greys have a large vocabulary and learn everything.
10. Whenever my parents left the house, I tried to teach it how to say “Fuck my mouth! I can’t help it, fuck my mouth!”
11. I got sent to boarding school soon after. Sunshine got sent to some aviary. An 80 year lifespan was too far away from that 100% chance of death for us both.
12. This is what Nancy Miller calls “interactive remembering.”
13. I’m not someone who made lots of lists on Facebook, because I was too cool for it which meant not cool enough to have my lists read as cool.
14. Intuition isn’t the foundation of randomness. It’s an illusion driven by the life you’ve already had.
15. Someone else could take this class. Someone else could write this list.
16. Self awareness isn’t the same thing as bravery. Is self-consciousness authenticity?
17. Voyeurism isn’t really a fetish. Today someone said that fetishism is a way of looking.
18. My parents are crazy. This means I have lots of crazy stories. I could gossip about myself.
19. “The Unique Adventures of an Individual Snowflake in the Neoliberal Era”
20. I like lists that I can cross off better. It makes me feel productive. What does writing a memoir (being the subject/object of voyeurism) produce?
21. Many people have said dude you should write a memoir.
22. Is it true that you can’t be what you can’t see?
23. Am I cheating on this assignment?
24. Thank you, thank you. I couldn’t have done it without you!
25. My style is more of an echo.

26. A Toyota Echo. That’s what they give me every time I rent a compact car.
27. I have had sexual dreams about people that didn’t have a crush on, then I woke up with crushes on them.
28. I want to complain in a way that makes people like me.

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