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Posts tagged with ‘multiphrenic identity’

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.

“Real Names” Policies Are an Abuse of Power - danah boyd →

Starting from her research into youth, people of color, abuse victims, LGBT folks, and other marginalized groups, danah makes a short and sweet refutation of the premises of normalcy and naturalness of the Google ‘Real Names’ policy. She ends up here:

There is no universal context, no matter how many times geeks want to tell you that you can be one person to everyone at every point. But just because people are doing what it takes to be appropriate in different contexts, to protect their safety, and to make certain that they are not judged out of context, doesn’t mean that everyone is a huckster. Rather, people are responsibly and reasonably responding to the structural conditions of these new media. And there’s nothing acceptable about those who are most privileged and powerful telling those who aren’t that it’s OK for their safety to be undermined. And you don’t guarantee safety by stopping people from using pseudonyms, but you do undermine people’s safety by doing so.

Thus, from my perspective, enforcing “real names” policies in online spaces is an abuse of power.

The Zuckerberg Fallacy is a travesty of dogmatic ideology, based on a asbergerish premise of a single public identity to be mandated and used in all contexts.

Zuckerberg said “Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity” in an interview with David Kirkpatrick, which directly attacks the motives of anyone advancing an opposite argument.

Facebook and now Google have adopted this model because they think of us as consumers, not people. They want to track our doings, for their own ends.

But in a fragmented world online our identity is becoming a network of context-dependent identities, or multiphrenic identity as Kenneth Gergen styled it, and as I explored:

Stowe Boyd, Multiphrenic Identity

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.

It’s an interesting paradox — and one that might spell the limits of Google+ success — that Google has built the Circles capability so that people can break up their monolithic social world into separate scenes. But Google won’t let you be Carlos in one, and Carlotta in another, even if that is how you are known those possibly non-overlapping groups.

I am known as an advocate for publicy: living out loud online. But nearly every time I discuss living openly I make the case for privacy and secrecy, which are essential elements of life for all of us.

A social tool that prohibits fundamental and non-harmful human behaviors is oppressive, and such oppression means that we are justified in breaking their ‘laws’ to the extent that we can.

Evan Williams | evhead: Five Easy Pieces of Online Identity →

Ev Williams tries to boil down identity to five parts:

  1. Authentication - Do you have permission?
  2. Representation - Who are you?
  3. Communication - How do I reach you?
  4. Personalization - What do you prefer?
  5. Reputation - How do others regard you?

This is a very tool-centric, or marketing-centric approach, and leaves out — or dismisses — all the messy and interesting philosophical aspects of identity.

Consider issues like publicy: How much of these various aspects of identity do you want to be revealed? Or context-based identity: you are a different you with the bowling league, at work, or on Suicide Girls.

Ev’s list is based on information flows — how people and systems might communicate or interact with people through identity markers of various kinds — but it doesn’t get at our personal motivations, needs, or requirements around identity as an aspect of human psychology.

Facebook, Discourse, And Identity

The question of Facebook comments disguises a number of deeper issues, but is also in and of itself interesting. Many have reported that the number of blog comments has gone down with the introduction of Facebook comments on various well-trafficked blogs. This may be a good thing, reintroducing social scale to forums that had grown too large, and as a consequence had seen a decrease in civility.

Mathew Ingram notes that involvement trumps numbers in comments:

Mathew Ingram, Why Facebook Is Not the Cure For Bad Comments

[…] the reality is that when it comes to improving blog comments, anonymity really isn’t the issue — the biggest single factor that determines the quality of comments is whether the authors of a blog take part in them.

Working at a pioneering blog network in 2004, I coined the term ‘the Conversational Index’ which we discovered as a means of predicting the future success of blogs. It was defined as

Conversational Index = (comments + trackbacks) / posts

I guess nowadays we’d have to include references from Twitter and Facebook, but you get the idea. Successful blogs generated a lot of commentary, and they did so from almost the very start.

And it wasn’t a function of publicy: there was no effort involved to have people use their legal names. It was a function of involvement on the part of the authors.

Regarding the deeper issues underlying comments, Robert Scoble went apeshit yesterday, after reading Steve Cheny’s piece, How Facebook is Killing Your Authenticity, that I also commented on (see The Facebooking Of Identity). Here’s some of what Robert wrote:

Robert Scoble, The Real Authenticity Killer

These “authenticity is dead” people are cowards.

See, where I ONLY post opinions I’m willing to sign my name to, lots of people are actually cowards and just not willing to sign their names to their mealy-mouthed attacks.

Don’t give me that horseshit that you won’t be able to whistle blow at work.

It is hard to summarize Scoble’s rant, but in essence he is making the case that the web’s natural structure channels each of us toward using a single identity — for example in comments, or blog posts — and we should embrace that, and not attempt to subvert it.

I think this is a bit simplistic, at the least; principally because it leads to overtly conservative strictures on discourse, and not just for whistle blowers.

How many people have been fired in recent years for blogging, for example? And how many untold thousands have held their tongue or suppressed their own potentially unpopular opinions for fear of various sorts of retribution, or just being left out of the discussion?

Lastly, we are moving into a new era, principally opened by the rise of web culture, where a post-modern identity is a possibility. We can potentially involve ourselves with very different social scenes, with different ground rules, different purposes, and starkly different values, all at the same time.

Through involvement with such diverse groups we grow and learn very different perspectives. In a sense, we can  shift from a unitary identity to a network of identities, where the various nodes connect with each other in asymmetric and uneven ways: we may even have elements in a multiphrenic personality that are in conflict with each other.

This infuriates a lot of people, and whenever I present this concept there are fireworks. Some argue that such an identity is immature, illegitimate, and possibly immoral. I have been accused of inciting others to have false identities, when in fact I am really just observing a shift in societal mores.

Just as our society, politics, and business benefit from increased diversity — different views that possibly conflict — I think the same is true for post-modern identity.

Who among us is certain about everything? Who has no doubts? Who never wonders about choices made, or paths not taken? Who never sees multiple sides to an argument?

Scoble obviously has no doubts about identity: you are the you that the most open social context says you are, and that’s that. You should accept it, and if you don’t you are a coward, or so Scoble says.

But I have a different perspective, one that is more accepting of our search for self and the relativity of identity, and less demanding of certainty in an uncertain and rapidly evolving world.

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Hiding In Plain Sight: Publicy and Social Steganography

I have written a great deal about our transition online from an ethos of secrecy and privacy (a la email, and groupware) in the pre-social web, to a social web in which publicy (or publicness) is displacing and remaking the premises of social interaction.

Danah Boyd has introduced a great metaphor into theis discussion: social steganography. Here’s a discussion about teens, making the case for concealment by social camouflage:

Alice Marwick and Danah Boyd, Tweeting teens can handle public life

But even when teens aren’t hiding behind monikers, what they post may not make sense to an outsider. Access to content is not the same as access to interpretation. Teens regularly post in-jokes and use song lyrics or cryptic references to speak to a narrower audience than might be accessing their tweets. Some tweets are clearly difficult to decode, making the reader aware that a message is being hidden; others can be understood as “social steganography” where the message is hidden in “plain sight”. While their classmates, parents or potential employers may be able to see these tweets, they don’t necessarily understand them. Although there’s nothing fundamentally new about these practices, their application to Twitter makes it clear that teens are aware of speaking in public and using strategies to manage it.

What all this means is that “public or private” is more complicated than it seems. Twitter and its ilk aren’t going away, and the answer to responsible use isn’t to shut teens out of public life. Many teens are indeed more visible today than ever before, but, through experience, they’re also developing skills to manage privacy in public. What matters is not whether or not teens are speaking in public, but how we support them as they try to learn how to responsibly navigate the networked public spaces that are central to contemporary life.

Steganography is ‘is the art and science of writing hidden messages in such a way that no one, apart from the sender and intended recipient, suspects the existence of the message, a form of security through obscurity.’ - Wikipedia. The classic examples include invisible ink between the visible lines of a letter, and today, information can be embedded in digital images, sent via email, and extracted by the recipient based on a shared key.

It’s based on a kind of camouflage: where the familiar and superficial draws attention away from the occluded and hidden.

Danah defines social steganography this way:

When Carmen broke up with her boyfriend, she “wasn’t in the happiest state.” The breakup happened while she was on a school trip and her mother was already nervous. Initially, Carmen was going to mark the breakup with lyrics from a song that she had been listening to, but then she realized that the lyrics were quite depressing and worried that if her mom read them, she’d “have a heart attack and think that something is wrong.” She decided not to post the lyrics. Instead, she posted lyrics from Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” This strategy was effective. Her mother wrote her a note saying that she seemed happy which made her laugh. But her closest friends knew that this song appears in the movie when the characters are about to be killed. They reached out to her immediately to see how she was really feeling.

Privacy in a public age

Carmen is engaging in social steganography. She’s hiding information in plain sight, creating a message that can be read in one way by those who aren’t in the know and read differently by those who are. She’s communicating to different audiences simultaneously, relying on specific cultural awareness to provide the right interpretive lens. While she’s focused primarily on separating her mother from her friends, her message is also meaningless to broader audiences who have no idea that she had just broken up with her boyfriend. As far as they’re concerned, Carmen just posted an interesting lyric.

In a world based on publicy and multiphrenic identity it will not be uncommon to have the meaning of one’s words or actions interpreted differently, contextualized differently, by the members of different networks. Do they see the leopard’s spots, or the leopard?

(ht @fstutzman)

The New Who Thing - Khoi Vinh →

My biggest complaint, by far, has bothered me for some time but has taken me only until recently to put my finger on. Tumblr discourages identity. Or, to be more specific, it promotes shallow identity. Moreso than other blogging systems like WordPress or ExpressionEngine, Tumblr blogs frequently offer only scant few details about their authors. I can’t recall how many Tumblr sites I’ve visited where it wasn’t clear who was behind the posts, what their background was, or what their intent was. Many of these sites are artful, well designed and are actually quite engaging, but I guess I’m old fashioned in that I like to know who’s behind them.

WHO DID THIS?

Everyone praises the power of anonymity that the Internet makes possible, and I’m firmly in that camp. At the same time, I prefer it when people use their real identities. It just makes for a better experience. When you post or contribute anything online and you use your real name, and you provide authentic details about your station in life or your passions, it works as a multiplier of the value of your contribution — and for the richness of the network, too.

That’s what was so compelling, I think, about the first few waves of blogs. By and large, they weren’t just venues for the publication of content. They also served as outposts for your identity, a representation of who you were on the World Wide Web. By contrast, Tumblr blogs often seem more like something dishonest — well, dishonest is too strong a word. But when I browse through many of these tumblelogs, they feel as if their authors are trying to get away with something, trying to sneak something past somebody. There’s a sense of evasiveness, or vagueness, of no one really standing behind what’s been published, or no one being sufficiently committed to the content to offer up their name.

Before readers here post vociferous defenses of this approach, let me clear, I don’t think that Tumblr’s dynamic of shallow identity is wrong. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, the highly fungible nature of identity that Tumblr makes possible is a welcome ballast against the deeper identity dynamic that Facebook makes possible — or that Facebook makes inevitable, depending on how you look at it. The Tumblr approach is much more tolerant of ambiguity, of irony and artfulness, and that’s a good thing. I only wish that particular quality was also a bit more conducive to its users putting forward their real identities. Still, that doesn’t mean I’m still not jealous as heck I didn’t come up with the whole thing.

Vinh falls into the Zuckerberg Fallacy, arguing that Tumblr promotes ‘shallow’ identity, where users’ ‘real’ identities are absent, and only fragmentary details may be available.

But if a person is exploring a single node of their networked identity in a Tumblr blog — for example, a foot fetish, or an obsession with piercings — the experience for the poster or the reader is changed drastically by the imposition of a ‘real’ — meaning monolithic — personality. 

And the nature of the blog’s material may be in conflict with other nodes in the networked identity, or cause conflict by bringing together contacts in non-overlapping contexts.

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.

Identity and The Independent Web - John Battelle's Searchblog →

Battelle takes a wandering path talking — in principle — about identity in the connected world, but actually discussing how marketers can exploit identity.

Really doesn’t touch on multiphrenic identity (or federated identity) at all.

Freedom of Association 2.0: people must be able to have multiple social IDs, “federating” them only in their heads.

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.