Who I am as a function of what I do is part of the philosophy shared by many individuals who are used to entering spaces built to house specific hobbies, pastimes, interests, beliefs and communities. Poster anticipated the repercussions of destabilized identities because of newfound capacity, through the Internet, of multiple selves. As we are able to differentiate ourselves into specific characters for specific tasks, the web of relationships creates communities which create differentiated realities. Poster rightly predicts:

In the second media age “reality” becomes multiple … The effect of new media such as the Internet and virtual reality, then, is to multiply the kinds of "realities" one encounters in society

I. Space and Self

Reading Mark Poster’s Postmodern Virtualities, we come across his ideas on shifting identities wherein the subject – the user, producer, consumer, audience and performer – is broken down in the same way I am able to chat with five people from three different circles of friends while being active in various microblogging sites and updating an online-friends locked livejournal.

Poster problematizes the position of self relative to the spaces the self occupies in his discussion of the change in culture as a result of rapid information exchange in the form of, not only words and images, but experiences, created situations and new configurations of, nonetheless, modern (as opposed to post-modern) communities.

When I say I am both girlonfire on yahoo mail and stickystones on gmail, I do not erase the distinction between those two identities because one address may service deviantart while the other receives updates for a snape/harry community. Existence online becomes, not an issue of time-management, but a question of how many interests we are able to maintain but, rather, a question of person’s prolificacy in terms of self-expression. Poster recognized that the spaces in which individuals and identities thrived, were similarly reconstructed in cyberspace. Talking about the emergence of a media that is more than the sum of modern technologies, he said:

“multimedia” reconfigure words, sounds and images so as to cultivate new configurations of individuality … images and words become places of communicative relation

Poster argues that, through the transmission of information at the same speed that face to face communication occurs, human identities are reconstructed. As an interface, however, the medium decodes the identity, forcing the user to produce an identity or a self apt for communication. A human plugs itself into the machine as information. As a manufactured product, a person is able to produce more than one identity. The proliferation of this identity is evidence of multiple realities wherein each identity participates separately, acts as one being as opposed to an extensions or elaborations of each other.

Poster correctly predicted the integral role of relationships in subject construction. For example, having Online (OL) friends necessitated the distinction between them and Real Life (RL) friends whereas the relationships follow the same distinction. Online friends tend to be people we like talking to whereas Real life friends are people we like to hangout with. Relationships mediated by words and images alone are no less real because emotional ties are established regardless of physical contact. Identities are formed and recognized by both parties. When we interact online, we elaborate on the character or avatar we handle.

Emphasizing subject position as a key element of identity draws attention to the spaces where the identity is constructed. Denizens of deep (cyber)space are able to construct elaborate, multiple selves through whom they interact with others. Internet has evolved past forums and fansites and identities have necessitated these developments.

A pastiche of text, subtext and images is most apparent in blogging. Both a created space and an identity, any and every art of self-expression on-line is some form of blogging. It involves the creation of a stable identity which updates on a regular basis, despite its relative impermanence and the multiple hosts available. Serious romantic relationships are proof of the effectiveness of internet as a medium for social exchange to rival real life experience. In the same way, incidents of bloggers faking their own deaths and the emotional impact of an online loss is proof enough that relationships are similarly destroyed. Despite being fragmented, one’s identities and the temporality of these online selves do not hinder the development of relationships or the authenticity of these relationships.

Through technology, we are able to multiply ourselves and disseminate selves into separate spaces at once. The plurality of selves makes possible a multiplicity of spaces and realities we occupy simultaneously. The single, uniform self is not compromised by the possibility of plurality. The internet is the freedom to express the indecency of being indefinite, having indefinite selves. The internet doesn’t make us choose who we are – it makes us accumulate a theory of who we think we are.

Although our understanding of the factors which come together to form a cohesive, determinable community remains unchanged – we still subscribe to identifying a gathering of like-minded people with common interests, common pursuits, goals and common beliefs as a community – our understanding, of how and where these communities form, involves the technological developments which assist human interactions as the basis of community-formation.

II. Netizen to Cyborgs

As time is bridged by technology, we understand that communication happens in real time but not in real space. As time disappears, we are left with spaces to populate with identities, manufactured selves that, regardless of the manipulation, cannot be regarded as mere simulations because they are more than formations of character traits. The identities exist in a separate, identifiable space where we – as other identities — interact with other selves.

Howard Rheingold used the term Cybernaut to describe an avid user of the Internet. The more popular term now is Netizen. Cybernaut’s allusion to Astronaut and the move to Netizen, an association, instead, with Citizen, is evidence of an evolved understanding of cyberspace. We no longer understand the space created by our defiance of time as uninhabitable. We no longer perceive the space created by technological advances as somewhere suitable only for visits, as opposed to residence. Instead, we recognize the space as a place a city where a society is able to exist, build relations and maintain relations.

Subject constitution in the second media age occurs through the mechanism of interactivity

Poster mentioned MUDs or Multi User Domains and LambdaMOO as niches where virtual reality is recognized and encountered by individuals. Today, interactivity does not depend merely on text or images. Games like Audition Online and Second Life supports life in three dimensions. Mitch Wagner, in his article 12 Things To Do In Second Life That Aren’t Embarrassing If Your Priest Or Rabbi Finds Out, explains that sight-seeing is just as popular online as it is offline:

Visit Amsterdam. It’s one of the leading destinations in Second Life, because it’s extremely well-done. It’s a beautiful re-creation of real-life Amsterdam … the 3-D nature of Second Life allows me to suspend disbelief and be somewhere else, not at my desk staring at the screen.

Like millions of users around the world, Wagner is able to transcend the physical location and transport himself to another, livable space.

Poster’s insight about the transfer of information holds true for individuals and identities:

information is set free of its material integument to move and multiply in cyberspace with few constraints

As residents of the spaces between time, we have also become dependent on the technology which allows us to flit back and forth between lives and realities. Instead of merely residing in the spaces and building within them, we have learned to need the technology. In the same way that life in the real world must continue, life online moves forward and requires upkeep. Becoming involved in a life constructed by machines has made us one with the machines.

to construct a boundary between the human and the machinic that draws the human into the technology, transforming the technology into “used equipment” and the human into a “cyborg” into one meshing with machines.

And just to illustrate the possibility of an event, this is the Cyberwoman from Torchwood spin-off of Doctor Who

Being dependent on technology to continue a life, a series of relationships, presents the difficulty of communication failure. New ways of interaction does not guarantee that relationships get any easier and maintaining separate lives makes the possibility of confusion, chaos and disorder, more likely. Interacting with people on different levels becomes tiresome.

III. The Necessity of Narratives or Why Fandoms Can Save (Post-Real, Social) Lives

The appeal is strong to tell one’s tale to others, to many, many others

Poster understood that at the core of communities is, not commonality, but communication and a sharing of identities. He understood, though he didn’t specify the shape of the space created by New Media, that the communication mediated by text, image and sound, would depend upon interpretation, reading, comprehension and, consequently, intertextuality, like connecting to a mass audience or vying for an audience. Communities erupt from dialogues and discussions – that’s why fandoms and role playing games provide a surprising amount of comfort.

Virtual reality takes the imaginary of the word and the imaginary of the film or video image one step farther by placing the individual "inside" alternative worlds

Fanculture and identifying with a certain fandom establishes identities. Individuals form identities based on interests and fan culture is exactly an expression, an exaggeration or the ideal representation of interest online. Fandoms provide points around which to congregate and discussions are easy to begin with others of the same interests – with other people who want to debate the merits of one ship against another in the same fandom, or intellectualizing the latest episodes of a decades-old British TV Series.

Poster must’ve intended that we indulge in fantasy but the realities produced and maintained by our own plurality isn’t dependent on imagination. Its reality is authentic because spaces created by technology is able to create communities. The multiplicity of selves, our identities, maintain relationships and societies in these constructed spaces.

Thanks to Star Trek, fan culture has been able to thrive online. Before the internet and the world wide web connected legions of HP, BtVS and LotR fans, Star Trek’s loyal following had already started the clamor for fan service in the form of underground fanzines. The mother(ship) Kirk / Spock paved the way for fans to develop ways of congregating. Fan culture provides a different take on citizenship: there are no longer geographical divisions. Instead, there are (relation)ship wars, flame wars, trolls, etc. Confrontations and conflicts arise out of a conflict of interest, similar to differences we encounter in the real world. Cyberspace, as a reality in its own right, isn’t real only relative to the physical world.

Poster was able to imagine a world where:

postmodernity or the mode of information indicates communication practices that constitute subjects as unstable, multiple, and diffuse

Experiencing the cultures and holding the responsibilities of having multiple lives dependent upon technology, necessitates a similarly radical way of living in the new media constructed spaces.

(c) Fights That End In Broken Noses 070343 2009
COM105: Introduction to Media Studies
Professor Andrew Ty

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