Unused notes on the “data self”

1. neoliberal subjectivity, grounded most plainly in social media, problematizes consumerist authenticity: social media becoming necessary as new site for socialized production (immaterial labor, full subsumption, etc.) but the experience of being subject to them is becoming an increasingly bumpy ride. Identity is fundamentally multiple, incomplete, provisional, cyborg, contextually contingent. It’s fundamentally social, necessarily emerging from a collectivity that pre-exists it, and it requires constant reiteration. Individuation is a continuous process, as Gilbert Simondon argues. But we experience subjectivity as unitary (we think we inhabit only one identity in the moment) and given. This can trick us into thinking identity should be a seamless continuity, as inherent and persistent as our conscious subjectivity. This conflation can be exploited for ideological ends, as with consumerism’s rhetoric about power and expression through choice in the marketplace.

2. the tensions in authenticity threaten consumerist/neoliberal hegemony: surveillance, reputation management, productive subjectivation all threaten generating resistance if they remain manifestly coercive in their procedures for data-ifying the self. Real name policies clash with lived experience of multiple contexts and different implied selves. Cracks in idea of an “original self” begin to show.

3. Definition of data self as the new authentic, and its benefits to users; its embrace of its relation to quantified self and affect of efficiency, which allows it to harmonize with demands of neoliberalism and social media. It inverts vulnerablility and anxiety and paranoia endemic to social-media surveillance and data mining and FOMO into a guarantee of a “winning self” buoyed by network certification and circulated approval. Identity gets located at the end of a GTD-like process that leverages online algorithms to produce coherent quantity/data-based self that enjoys productivity for its own sake and maximizing “experienced processed” as expression of identity. Facebook et al. posit what they represent as your best self for you to inhabit. This clean, efficient subjectivation process is their product. This self has a new coherency that was stripped from the old modern conception of “true authentic self.” The reward for quantification is efficiency/productivity, which is equated with accomplishing more, which is equated to a richer life experience, a deeper self. This self is pure consumer, made of and for consumer choices, hypercustomized.

4. Supports for willingness to convert to data self. Individuation, normalization, safety. Benefits of the data self: It solves certain problems of inauthenticity, removing the gap between social media self and moment-to-moment subjectivity. It fights off ego depletion that can stem from too much information and choice and so on. It banishes the nondocumentable from the identity, making anything that’s missed out on irrelevant (always more recommendations coming; always the self is being re-posited as in control with access to the necessary material by algorithms). It provides a reputation management dashboard or console. It lets us be judged to our hearts content and monitor the rise and fall of our status and influence — positing that influence as concrete. What I do is not a part of who I am until I know surveillance/social media has picked it up. Google alert for the soul. This is decentered authenticity.

5. And productivity: social media totality offers to make sense of the world for us, to integrate us and position us and provide social recognition in lieu of older less secure systems broken down by neoliberalized society — social media is “pharmacological” in this sense. In the same way, reputation systems are a mode of social deskilling that make us dependent on them as they ease our trust issues with others. We need FB to validate people, and ultimately ourselves, our own experiences.

6. Social media and its “grammatization of the social” encourages a new way of knowing the self Entails the embrace of social media as a totality that can systematize and process all life experience into identity conceived explicitly as cultural capital. The more one uses social media, the more the “authentic” moves to the algorithmic. Hence the data self being seen as the real self, and the present-time self as provisional. . By letting Facebook capture and process everything, we can generate better and weirder selves than what our memory could have given us, enhanced by commentary from our connections. Even feedback from recommendation engines and data-driven micromarketing can serve self-defining and self-aggrandizing purposes in this context. Social media gives us more information about ourselves than we can process, so any schematization of it seems to add to self-knowledge rather than limit it, broadening our identity repertoire. Facebook Timeline, for instance, by imposing a template on personal data, epitomizes the way social media can standardize users while also engaging them in their specific productive capabilities. We can generate a infographic of the self so compelling that we can comfortably overlook its formulaic nature

7. But it renders one an atomized “dividual” with diminished agency and dependent on mediation from for-profit entities to access the collective. Identity is conceived in terms of influence rather than solidarity, its value and impetus stems from garnering a preferential and enviable spot within the network. Facebook wants us to fetishize our profile as personal property, which just reinscribes us as data serfs with FB as our overlord. But we can refuse the property idea and see profiles as an unscarce resource, an unlimited plenitude. In social media use, subjectivity is “premediated,” preformatted to suit information-processing needs. How we are processed then feeds back into the self’s ongoing construction, determining what information it sees, who sees it, what sort of recognition it receives, and so on. The term dividual is a kind of shorthand for that constructed self controlled from within by the constrictions brought on by its own choices — the data self comes alive in how the data is parsed in technological systems and cannot exist autonomously, apart from those systems. You need Facebook to live. the data self/dividual construct guides what we see online (through recommendation engines and tailored pages and filtering and so forth), reinforcing that dividual construct — our active identity begins to merge with the one that emerges from how our data is processed in the media we use. It also shapes what about us presented to others in our networks. Others are as overwhelmed as we are and just as subject to be manipulated by selective filtering. We don’t own the networks or the filters; the companies that do own social media can use them to create us as subjects that suit their ends.

8. The next move maybe to take the data self and warp it into postauthenticity, to take its radical implications of deindividuation or desubjectivation and embrace them as an aesthetics of momentum rather than a fetishization of identity as personal property. One is intersubjective with data as proxy for intersubjectivity with broader populace. The concern is whether this ever escapes commercial control.

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