Posted some Tweets about data self above. Below some more comments.
boyd’s paper sets the stage with basic ideas about constructed nature of the self, the way individuality emerges from social embeddedness and so on. I am speculating that this self is less likely to be read/experienced as inherent, as the revelation of one’s true inner nature, as the ultimate expression of unique individuality — as “authentic. Instead it is postauthentic: the values of consumerist authenticity are being changed by “prosumerism” and the ease of broadcastability of consumer behavior and identity/status signifiers and so on. Social media feeding back an identity to users may prompt those users to eschew the idea of being true to a static inner self in favor of a more dynamic form of identity, as something we have reported to us and then try to live up to. The data self reported to us is kind of status update from ourselves that surprises us as novel, allows us to consume our own personality as novelty.
boyd notes that teens’ “efforts to achieve privacy without relying on the control of information are still an important signal” that they have not given up on privacy altogether. In my “Hi Haters” essay, I try to get at something similar, what sort of practices of seeking control over identity and representations of self people turn to when networked society has taken it away or made it feel out of control. I argue that the subjective feeling of this condition is a kind of “cruel optimism” a la Lauren Berlant. We accommodate an immiserating condition rather than remove ourselves from the network.
I think that latching on to the post-hoc data self is another way of trying to evade the misery that can come from the loss of control over self-representation. It’s not giving up on identity, but on the personal control and autonomy implicit in the individualistic ideal version of identity. (Maybe not the worst thing. As boyd writes, “In order to address networked privacy, we need to let go of our cultural fetishization with the individual as the unit of analysis.”)
It’s protective to embrace the data self, not the vulnerable inner-conjured self, which is conditioned/determined/interpreted inescapably anyway by all sorts of outside influences and always has been. We were just able to blind ourselves to that much more easily before. (This is why Simondon’s idea of preindividuality — or at least what little I understand of it at this point — seems more relevant to me. Need to read something like this.) Looking to data is a defense mechanism, masquerading perhaps as a gesture of curiosity or discovery, or a kind of self-tracker yearning to know the real objective truth of the self. (Actually, looking to data self for “truth” prohibits or suspends the formation of a “true self” as we used to think of it, as the result of self-actualization, as an expression of emerging and uniquely personal will.)
Basically I’m trying to sketch out the subjective experience of having an alienated identity: When you know you can’t control how you will be seen and that much of what you do is open to reinterpretation, how does one build narratives of identity, if at all? The contours of this subjectivity are not determined by some notion of inner “true self” or the search for it; instead it is dictated by the ongoing search for the represented self: now the true self is how others/machines see us and interpret our data, which we seek to have reported back to us.
We redefine the “true self” on the basis of ideological conditions and affective needs. We accept a true self that makes those conditions tolerable. But building walls around self with privacy no longer viable way of protecting ideology of individualism. Consumerism and capitalism seeking ways to move beyond individualism as ideological pillar, into subsumption of everyday life.
Following up later tweets: in response to Robin James’s note in a tweet that “profile not as proven f or t (in/authentic), but itself proof of yr success”: I think the idea of an algorithm of self as “proof of your success” at belonging to society is exactly right; whether it reflects “real you” has become an irrelevant question. Just managing to be processed is the goal, at least initially, then the goal is gaming the algorithms, not digging deeper into the mysteries of one’s own psyche.,