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Posts tagged with ‘kenneth gergen’

What happens when the scientific ways of interpreting the world are set loose in the society? Who gains, who loses, and how do we wish to build our future together?

Kenneth Gergen, An introduction to Social Construction

Douglas Rushkoff on The End Of Time

I have ordered Douglas Rushkoff’s new book, Present Shock, but until then, here’s Kosner’s take:

Anthony Wing Kosner, Douglas Rushkoff’s Present Shock: The End Of Time Is Not The End Of The World

Rushkoff breaks up “presentism” into five symptoms or challenges and matches each with constructive solutions for pressing the pause button. The “aha-moment-per-page ratio in Present Shock is high. Once you identify these concepts for yourself, you will start to see them everywhere.

  1. Narrative Collapse: Rushkoff identifies both the sensationalism of reality TV and the meta-stories of The Simpsons and Family Guy as examples of how we no longer have the time or patience for linear stories. From entertainment to financial investment, the payoff has to be virtually instantaneous in order to justify our attention. Politically, he shows how these impulses play out both in the Tea Party and the Occupy movement. A news cycle divested of linear time, pushes politicians into present tense reactions with unsustainable results. Rushkoff’s sympathies are clearly more with Occupy who confounded conservatives and the mainstream press by having a large impact without an easily identifiable goal. In remix culture and contemporary activism, he sees the potential for us to seize the narrative frame and use them in new ways to invent innovative story forms and flexible agendas.
  2. Digiphrenia: Because technology enables us to be aware of and have control over multiple conceptual spaces simultaneously, our attention is increasingly divided. Whether we are “multi-tasking” at work or piloting drone strikes in Afghanistan from a suburban office park in Las Vegas, we are not in the present moment (in a zen sense) but actually in fragments between moments that happen to be occurring at the same time. The key to avoiding these dislocation, Rushkoff suggests, is to understand the difference between time as data flow (like a Twitter feed) and time as data storage (like a book.) Knowing when to be in “the now,” and when to insulate yourself from it can help you reclaim control of your time and attention.
  3. Overwinding: The “shock” part of future shock really comes from how much time we have “springloaded” into the present. From financial derivatives to the piracy of intellectual property, Rushkoff shows how we use leverage “to squish huge timescales into much smaller ones,”  attempting to capture the value of (others’) labor in the click of a mouse. This is why Black Friday gets earlier and earlier each year or why shaving a couple of milliseconds off the time to execute a computerized trade confers significant advantage. But we can also use this fact in more constructive ways to “springload” time into things, like the example Rushkoff cites of the fully functional “pop-up” hospital that Israel sent to Japan after the Tsunami.
  4. Fractalnoia: One of the biggest risks in the barrage of big data spawned by our digital lives is that our abilities of pattern recognition are imprecise. When we succeed at making sense of the world in one scale or time frame we easily apply that “fractal” pattern elsewhere, often inappropriately. As the pace of change increases, our feedback loops get shorter and shorter until all we have is feedback screech. Computers, operating out of human time, can in fact discern patterns in that noise, but it is up to us humans to put those patterns in the correct context. When we fudge the hierarchy we end up with conspiracy theories and unsupportable science.
  5. Apocalypto: The time pressures are so great and our confidence in our own ability to solve the world’s problems so weak that apocalyptic finality has an unshakable appeal. Rushkoff links together not only “Preppers” in their bunkers and cryogenic “Singularity-ists,” but also the current cultural fascination with zombies as examples of our wish to “level up” (in game parlance) out of our present situation. These grand finales are fantasies, like the doomsday predictions about the end of the Mayan calendar, but they speak to a powerful yearning. Rushkoff suggest we resist these temptations and instead, “let up on the pedal just a bit… [and] envision slow paths to sustainability that don’t require zombies or the demise of the majority of the world’s population.

Hmmm. 

I wonder how much of Rushkoff’s work is grounded in those that have covered some of this ground before, like Kenneth Gergen (multiphrenic identity), Zygmunt Bauman (Liquid Modernity), or Fedric Jameson? 

Work/Life Balance In The ‘Social Factory’

In a piece ostensibly about Marissa Meyer, her famous sleep habits, and her ‘having it all’ lifestyle of rich CEO with newborn baby, Sarah Leonard uncovers a dark truth about the technorati using social tools to ‘brand’ themselves:

Sarah Leonard, She Can’t Sleep No More

The practices in Silicon Valley power centers put the lie to any concept of work life “balance.” As theorist Kathi Weeks likes to say, this is a site of contradiction, not mere imbalance, the contradiction between production and reproduction that has long existed for women. How one combines the two is dictated to a great degree by the economy; you can bet that if it was popularly believed that the American economy was suffering due to a lack of female middle management, all efforts to relieve working women of home duties would be celebrated, rather than held up to “but is she a good mother?” scrutiny.

Silicon Valley adds another twist to this formula — many of the women rising to the top are doing so in an office culture that is relentlessly sexist, but also dedicated to building products that focus on the “social factory.” The term sounds coined for and by people seeking degrees in media theory, but it’s a useful descriptor for the work we do commodifying our social relationships: think Facebook profiting from our clicks and Twitter from our tweets. AsJacobin contributing editor Melissa Gira Grant points out in a forthcomingDissent essay, Facebook was driven from the get-go by men’s relationships to women. It originated as Facemash, a sort of “hot or not” for Harvard women, in Mark Zuckerberg’s dormroom.

Employees at such social media companies now are required to maintain profiles themselves and operate as model users. Grant notes that Facebook hired a photographer to take their workers’ social media photographs, and employed photographers at all events so that the glamour could be shared in a brand-building exercise premised on the attractiveness of employees. The post-Fordist workplace makes more porous the barrier between personal and professional, and therefore the boundaries between work and home.

The second shift is now something of a permanent shift. Even after every job is done for the day, one updates Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter. Free time is enclosed for an uncompensated personal branding exercise important to a corporate world eager to use up workers’ personalities alongside their skill sets. Users may not perceive their experience this way, but social media companies profit directly from clicks and the impetus such sites create to “keep up” are a form of subtley imposed labor. And it means that there is absolutely no time that cannot be dedicated to work. There is no work life balance because work makes its way into life and life is the raw material with which to brand oneself for work.

I often say that I have given up on balance: I’m going for depth instead. But it appears that most people are pulled the other way: they lose balance, but are stretched out across too many social connections and too many contending social contracts. 

One of the characteristics of our time is a fragmenting of identity, what I called ‘networked identity’ for some time. However, the psychologist Kenneth Gergan was one of the first in discuss these thoughts, and he used the term multiphrenic identity:

Karin Wilkins, Moving Beyond Modernity: Media and Multiphrenic Identity among Hong Kong Youth

Gergen conceptualizes a new sense of self, contending that “the social saturation brought about by the technologies ofthe twentieth century, the accompanying immersion in multiple perspectives, have brought about a new consciousness: postmodernist”. Thus, Gergen believes that the proliferation of communication modes and of mediated products have contributed to what he terms the “multiphrenic self.”

Further, “cultures incorporate fragments of each other’s identities. That which was alien is now within”. In other words, the self may be interpreted not as a monolithic construction, but as a set of multiple socially constructed roles shaping and adapting to diverse contexts (cf. Weick). Rather than assume multiple identities pose a deviant condition, I prefer to assume their existence, moving toward an understanding of how these are constructed and supported within a media-saturated setting.

My sense is that the transition from the postmodernist era — post WWII until 2000 — into the postnormal is only accelerating this trend, and we are all becoming multiphrenic. We invest ourselves into relationships that are shaped by the affordances of the tools and the particular social contracts of the contexts. Through these relationships new and perhaps unexpected insights into others and ourselves arise. And we participate in dozens of these social environments, possibly with non-overlapping constituencies.

At some point for many, a complete blurring takes place, and there is no balance, no modulated transition from one situation to another. 

And our willingness to live this way means that we are offering up our selves, one fragment at a time to different constituencies, like a product placement in a TV show.

The Many Faces of You - Claire Cain Miller →

Facebook has received its share of criticism as it prods people to make more information on the site public. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and chief executive, has said Facebook reflects social norms, which are rapidly changing as people become more comfortable sharing more information with more people.

But attitudes toward sharing have not necessarily changed. Instead, people are developing new norms to manage their online lives, said Coye Cheshire, an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies online social intelligence.

For instance, after a party or vacation, people will often e-mail others in the group to find out if it is O.K. to post the photos on Facebook. “People begin to realize the implications of their actions, and that’s where norms get generated,” Professor Cheshire said.

The etiquette may be evolving, but the technology is moving faster than our social practices can adapt.

The position that we have — or should have — a single unitary social identity is wrong, and I have taken to calling it Zuckerberg’s Fallacy. One of the implications of the Fallacy is everything should be public. This notion of ubiquitous publicy (or publicness, as others call it) is an insidious moralistic stance, and is based on the same sweeping generalizations that dominate discussions about privacy in the political sphere.

The reality is that post industrial identity is a network of distinct identities, some of which may not gibe with each other. There is a possible conflict inherent in this multiphrenic identity (as Kenneth Gergen called it), and possible opprobrium when contacts in one context learn of the nature of another context, like the bridge club finding out about your foot fetish.

This is why we have an increased need for privacy and secrecy in a world that is becoming more public.

Multiphrenic Identity

I stumbled across a word today courtesy of @alicetiara: ‘multiphrenic’, which she defined as ‘multiple identities pieced together from the multiplicity of mediated messages in our environments.’ This sounded so much like my recent musings on networked identity that I did some searching.

Turns out the term was coined by Kenneth Gergen, a well known psychologist and author, first used in The Saturated Self (1991), which I have ordered from the library and hope to read soon.

I also found an essay online by Karin Wilkins that defines Gergen’s notions fairly concisely, and confirmed that he is indeed talking about a postmodernist identity of the same sort that I have been thinking about [emphasis mine]:

Karin Wilkins, Moving Beyond Modernity: Media and Multiphrenic Identity among Hong Kong Youth

Implications for Multiphrenic Identity

Identities connect individuals to larger social groups, constituting boundaries used to include and exclude members. Whereas in earlier development communication theory media were believed to promote national identity, an autopoietic framework would hold that media might promote multiple and diverse identities related to maintaining the boundaries of communities. Recent communication literature has moved away from an interest in a spatially-determined national identity, instead focusing on cultural identity, not equivalent to a particular space or territory.

[…]

[Kenneth] Gergen conceptualizes a new sense of self, contending that “the social saturation brought about by the technologies ofthe twentieth century, the accompanying immersion in multiple perspectives, have brought about a new consciousness: postmodernist”. Thus, Gergen believes that the proliferation of communication modes and of mediated products have contributed to what he terms the “multiphrenic self.”

Further, “cultures incorporate fragments of each other’s identities. That which was alien is now within”. In other words, the self may be interpreted not as a monolithic construction, but as a set of multiple socially constructed roles shaping and adapting to diverse contexts (cf. Weick). Rather than assume multiple identities pose a deviant condition, I prefer to assume their existence, moving toward an understanding of how these are constructed and supported within a media-saturated setting.

Exactly what I have been arguing with regard to our use of social tools online. We invest ourselves into relationships that are shaped by the affordances of the tools and the particular social contracts of the contexts. Through these relationships new and perhaps unexpected insights into others and ourselves arise. And we participate in dozens of these social environments, possibly with non-overlapping constituencies, each focused on different aspects of the greater world: entertainment, food, news, social causes, health, religion, sex, you name it. We become adept at shifting registers, just like polyglots shift from Italian to Corsican to Catalan without even thinking about it. We are multiphrenic.