Beginnings 2

WHAT ON EARTH IS GOING ON WITH MY ONLINE PERSONAS?

Without a doubt this has been the most challenging piece of writing I have ever undertaken. I am quite literally incapable of completing it…

The construction of individual identity is so essentially human that it occurred long before today’s digital age. The ‘I” is never a natural entity, but is a social and historical construct. (Smith & Watson, p. 71), ‘linked to issues of power, value systems and ideology’ (The Critical Media Project, Key to Identity, para 2) Any change in these relationships will impact on it.

                          Reflections of Light
sunset reflection

Sunset Reflections

The process of being able to adapt the “I”, of being able to re-adjust identity as structure changes, has been a potent survival weapon. It allows us to best advantage ourselves in a changing world. Constructing online identity is simply another adaptation, if a dramatic one, a way of negotiating fundamental changes in social organisation, just as occurred duing the transition to literacy. However, neurological dysfunction can interfere with this ability to adapt.

The ‘natural’ perception of ‘self’ upon which ‘identity’ is constructed was once ‘a unified whole’.  Post-modernist theory has replaced this concept, developing an understanding of the ‘self’ as being fragmented and fluctuating, (Kellner 1995, p. 233, cited in Brown 2016), identity ‘as much a shifting as fixed thing’ (Barry 2017, p. 305), a series of ‘mes’ (Brown 2016) rather than the unified whole.

To understand the self as being fragmented is counter-intuitive; we ‘know’ the single, integrated entity, comfortably identifiable as ‘I’, ‘the sign which will give meaning to all others’ (Eagleton 1983, p. 131)’. The notion of fragmentation is inconceivable to any one individual in the course of daily life. There is no question about who that “I” is.

Stars

Like fractured stars

Despite its illusory nature, the knowledge ‘I am’ brings cohesion, and the ability to fuse the various fragments of what constitutes identity into a single, effective entity. This is not true of everyone. It is not true of me.  My self-perception is unstable, unreliable, and at times rapidly mutates in response to doubts, fears and social stresses.

My inability to function with self-confident cohesion results in a deep sense of alienation. In recent years members from four generations of my family have been identified as being autistic. Autism expresses as a wide spectrum of ability and behaviour; I am an “Aspie” at the ‘high-functioning’ end. Understanding the reasons for past problems, however, does not prevent others from occuring, and this is one of those times. I find it impossible to present an intellectually reliable, honest self-conscious analysis and creative self-reflection on ‘my online identity’ when I do not have a truly cohesive identity off-line.

The effect of autism is complex, and varies widely. For me the major impact is on perception of self,  and on socialising skills. Despite being proficient in English, I interpret language too literally, especially when spoken not written.  I frequently misinterpret words, comments, directions and actions, cannot fill in forms, follow a manual or written instructions, and if I can’t ‘wing’ it, need to be shown how to master any new activities.

I have poor socialisation skills and am socially awkward. I find it impossible to assess others accurately, and talk too much in order to cover up extreme nervousness and the fact that I do not understand what is expected of me. I am unable to adjust my expectations of myself, am hyper self-critical, always hearing  criticism even when not spoken. I am compulsive-obsessive on some issues, and I can’t cope if I don’t reach the standards I set myself. I find it difficult to make decisions if there is a possibility I could make the wrong one,  always seeking approval, but reluctant to become a bother, convinced others will judge me negatively. I am insistent on doing things for myself, with at times disastrous results.  I have poor body image, rarely allowing photographs to be taken of me.  Even reflecting on these things causes extreme stress.

Physically distressing levels of emotional stress built up over the years and  culminated in two things. Firstly the major anxiety disorder associated with autism eventually led to episodic immobilising depression.  Secondly I ‘spontaneously’ became an expert at ‘performative’ strategies; I learnt how to conceal ‘ME’ in order to survive. I frequently act out, and am conscious of acting out, improved imagined versions of myself when I am not safe at home. I am also aware of my ‘audience’ in non-virtual life, and the strategies needed to manage them.  I am successful enough to have people break out laughing if I suggest otherwise, and so I often feel artificial, even dishonest. In short, I feel disconnected.

hollins

Hollins Trophy 3rd place
         Canterbury NSW 2016
        permission note attached

This does not mean, however, that I do not have online accounts. I am active on Facebook, and Jennywren1445 Handmade. However, Facebook does not play a large part in my daily life, being used (sporadically) to keep contact with family and friends, and for co-ordinating with my grandson’s figure skating coach. The second page is inactive – I’ve never worked out how use it.

Self

WordPress is the second site where I have established a long term internet presence . This is my bolthole; I use a pseudonym as a protective device, and here I can let my sense of disconnection and my alienated ‘self’ run free. If anyone should stumble across my posts, my name is not attached.  I have several blogging streams, but again I only  use them sporadically.  Mostly I upload my poetry; true to form, most is unposted for public scrutiny. I have long periods of inactivity.

However on my WordPress poetry site I do address an audience. I write to me – I read as a critic does, and I read particularly critically. It is here where I can lose touch with the stresses and tensions of the world, lose track of time. The outcome is not so clear.  This is where I find my greatest satifaction, yet I am hyper critical of my own writing; at times I can’t tell if I am honing my verse, or overwriting. Moreover, it is not until I am sure of the standard of work, or so troubled I need to reach out, that I post. Even when I do, I dread the response.

 So the need to be aware of the nature of the audience, and to construct an appropriate online identity is easy enough here – it is me. Not many people in my unvirtual or virtual world are aware that I write seriously. WordPress is where I am my secret self; I don’t have to worry about judgement, I feel ‘whole’ – I lose myself. No need to conceal myself from me.  This online persona does not have any intentions of linking with the ones on FaceBook.

None of my websites ‘work’ as points of connectivity, as social spaces for building connections. (Brown, 2016) My online identities are not cohesive nor consistent.  What is evident is that, except for the regular contact I maintain with my grandson’s skating group, I have almost non-existent sustained social networking.

 

The third online identity I am in the process of constructing is that of Jean (lawje), Deakin Post-graduate student. In the few weeks this persona has been active, it has switched from super-excited to super-anxious, from confident of ability, to doubting it can cope with the new demands of off-campus study, from being excited by new knowledge to feeling overwhelmed and panicked by the digital media structures that have developed in the last 20 years, from being determined to engage, to beginning to withdraw from the group from self-doubt. That persona is struggling, but even so has had a few successes.

SLIDESHARE

THE CHALLENGE OF RE-ENTERING EDUCATION AS A SEPTUAGENARIAN
THE CHALLENGE OFRE-ENTERING EDUCATION AS A SEPTUAGENERIAN NO. I’M NOT BRAIN DEAD YET

Some straightforward tips to help maximize the success of those wanting to complete studies they have put on the back burner.

TWO FURTHER TWEETS

In the critical sense, the concept of online identity stems from the internet’s connectivity, relies on performativity, and the discourse of the self.  “Celebrity” drives the impetus to create online identity (Marshall 2010, p. 36). Marshall goes on to argue that the creation of online identity was developed as a

‘pedalogical tool … specifically a pedagogical aid in the discourse of the self … Celebrity taught generations how to engage and use consumer culture to ‘make’ oneself.’ (Marshall 2010 p. 36)

This is a fascinating observation. Celebrity and the discourse of the self appear to be consciously taking on the role of which Literature itself was – and is – accused. Culler argues that

‘Literature has long been blamed for encouraging the young to see themselves as characters in a novel: running away from home to experience the life of the metropolis, espousing the values of heroes and heroines in revolting against their elders, and feeling disgust at the world before having experienced it…

Literature is said to corrupt through mechancisms of identification. (Culler 2011, p. 114)

Most telling is the motivation. It is a consumerist strategy, designed to sell self-image, and to groom generations to focus on ways to self promote through the purchase of material that allows them to reproduce images in homage to the Celebrities involved.

Nothing could run further counter to my ‘persona’. I hide myself to avoid attention, not attract it, I conceal the fact I write, my confused ideas of self make it impossible to construct a cohesive identity and Marshall’s concept of performativity and Celebrity is alien to me

poster Performative behaviour of the Celebrity and the commercial infrastructure built up around each one is designed to attract attention. It is meant to gather admiration and social prestige, while the characters become both pushers of products, and the product themselves. Marshall (2010 p??) designates the purpose of this is the training of generations on ‘how to engage and use consumer culture to ‘make’ oneself. Marshall is cited by Brown as saying that ‘self-production is the very core of celebrity activity’ (Marshall 2010, p.39)  It is critical that in this culture, the ‘self’ is able to develop strong strategies to avoid being manipulated.poster1

Performative behaviour here is the opposite to mine – mine is one of concealment, a construct intended to misdirect and especially to take attention away from true identity,  not designed to attract attention, to gather admiration and social prestige. (Marshall cited in Brown, p. 39)

Finally there is the question of access and expertise. I have been left behind by technological change. So while I have excellent access to an increasingly democratic web, paradoxically its extra-ordinary elitism works against my ability to make use of that access. Access does not mean automatic ability to use the technology.

According to Smith and Watson (2012 p. 82) questions of access and equity means that the vast majority of the world’s population does not have access to the internet.

siddashi

Siddashi: People living on the other of the Coin (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The question of access is critical. Even in a society such as Australia, there are large pockets of people, geographic, economic, social, and neuro-physically atypical, who are affected. My personal experience indicates that without facilitation, their futures will be limited.   We need to find ways to ensure that everyone has full access to  exciting social changes, and challenge by current dominant power systems, located in advanced industrial centres.

REFERENCES

Barbour, K and Marshall, D 2012, ‘The academic online: constructing persona through the World Wide Web’, First Monday: Peer-reviewed Journal of the Internet, vol. 17, no. 9, 3 September, retrieved 18 July 2013, <http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3969/3292#p3.>

Barry, P 1995  Beginning Theory, An Introduction To Literary and Cultural Theory, Manchester University Press, Manchester

Brown, A 2016 Multiple Me(s):Thinking Through My Online Self, <https://adamgbrown.wordpress.com/2016/03/11/multiple-mes-thinking-through-my-online-self/>

The Critical Media Project, Media literacy and the politics of identity – resources for educators USC Anneberg, Key Concepts, Paragraph 2′ n.d Retrieved November 29, 2017< http://www.criticalmediaproject.org/about/key-concepts/>

Culler, J 2011, Literary Theory, A Very Short Introduction, 2nd Edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford

Eagleton, T 1983 Literary Theory, An Introduction, Blackwell, Oxford

Kim, C 2012-2014 ‘Musings of An Aspie, Executive Function’, <https://musingsofanaspie.com/executive-function-series/&gt;

Marshall, P D 2010, ‘The promotion and presentation of the self: celebrity as marker of presentational media’, Celebrity Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 35-48.

National Autism Society UK, What is Autism,retrieved 20 December 2017

Smith, S and Watson, J 2013, Virtually Me, A Toolbox about Online Self-Presentation, in Poletti, A, & Rak, J (eds) 2013, Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, University of Wisconsin Press, Wisconsin. Retrieved: 30 November 2017 <http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/deakin/detail.action?docID=3445384.>

National Autism Society UK, What is Autism, retrieved 20 December 2017 <http://www.autism.org.uk/about/what-is.aspx>

Smith, S and Watson, J 2013, Virtually Me, A Toolbox about Online Self-Presentation, in Poletti, A, & Rak, J (eds) 2013, Identity Technologies: Constructing the Self Online, University of Wisconsin Press, Wisconsin. Retrieved: 30 November 2017 <http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/deakin/detail.action?docID=3445384.>

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