The message is dead, long live the messenger
The ABC of Web 2.0

Davos, Identity and Aristotle

'We are what we make. Our YouTubed videos, Technoratied blogs, Flickred photos etc – our creations express us,' wrote Jeff Jarvis while summing up his impressions blogging from Davos. He was struck by how identity seemed to be a recurring issue in all the media talk there, and I thought, just to step back a few thousand years in history, how Aristotelian: We are what we do, the sum of our choices and actions – and yes, why not also our creations.

To quote from this post: "Blogs, start with identity, not with the audience. They give a blogger the ability to define identity on his or her own terms – unmediated." I think that's an important point to remember when talking about social media, especially seeing how the more popular a phenomena gets, the more widespread the more or less informed efforts to analyse and explain its popularity.

The less convincing attempts at explaining social media I've come across recently range from narcissism to group pressure, and include this academic analysis (via Undercurrent) which draws heavily on a number of post-modern thinkers, carries a distinct echo of Freudian notions and argues that blogs lead to decay by eroding 'belief in the message'. Now I must admit I've only had time to skim through this quickly, but to think that Derrida, who seemed unable to understand 9/11 because people used the actual date to refer to it, would acknowledge the existence of, and attribute meaning to, the blogosphere, is intriguing. Add a bit of Foucault and a dose of penis envy: fascinating (I know, I should go back and read / analyse this in-depth, but it's loong and as always I've got another crazy workweek ahead of me - maybe over the weekend).


I'm lost. Is the question what blogs represent, and whether they're good or bad?

Also, there's a making/action distinction in Aristotle to consider (I think your post shows awareness of this), and it's ridiculously hard to follow. The cryptic comment with which Aristotle introduces it, in my experience, is Politics 1254a6-8.

Sorry to bring all that up. I'm not sure myself what would constitute an Aristotlean line of questioning on these matters, and will try to work towards one.

You're right: I'm ranting a bit here. Basically, this should have been two posts - put it all hastily together this morning for lack of time as all are attempts to define the nature of social media, but the academic text deserves a critique on its own and I could have expanded on identity/social media to make that part clearer. It's far from an attempt to criticise blogs, the academic text is, however, and I don't think it holds water - but it's a long and complex piece of reasoning and I'm as always too short of time.

Thanks, I'll see if I can look over the academic text soon.

This is actually probably a good place to start a discussion. Generally speaking, it would seem that our writings do represent us.

But then again, that depends on whether we put time and effort into writing. Several ex's of mine hated writing. I only found out that what they wrote, which had endeared me to them, was a far cry from how they lived after the relationship was done.

I think it is possible to be a blogger with a wholly public persona, and that persona to be composed of every problematic attribute we could imagine. Michelle Malkin and the bunch at DailyKos - they aren't subtle, and most of the time, aren't even close to thoughtful. But they have enormous audiences; one wonders if a writer that "fills a need" is a voice that stands independent or is replaceable by the next guy down the street who decides to shout loudly for the heck of it. Even Jeff Jarvis, whose blog I do like, shows a certain obtuseness: he's so focused on how technology is forcing old media to transform and some kind of populism to emerge that I don't ever see him talk about the dark side of this, or the problems with it. I mean, Aristotle said that if anyone tries to tell you that they have a new development in politics, they have to be lying: people have been the same forever. Politics is what one can conceive, and less what one can achieve. So the technology-empowered populism approach may have a flaw or two; those of us who watch how single minded social bookmarking can be (how many times do I need Firefox extensions recommended to me?) can see more base tendencies (if one thinks DailyKos gets ugly, look at the comment threads for LGF and Euphoric Reality) all the time. If technology is to be credited with empowering people, can it be blamed, too?

So that would be my criticism of blogs - not that they're bad, but the expectation that everyone can work with them is unreasonable. More important is that those of us who are thinking through issues seriously network through here, and find and respect each other's voices. That is, however, a far cry from populism: it is the hope old media will break up so that another sort of media - which will be old in due time - will replace them.

A most interesting discussion. I personally see blogs in the light of the media sciences, and feel quite optimistic about the phenomenon. Remember that back in the 60's most media theorists predicted a very grim future of a media audience solely consisting of the most passive couch potatoes (one noteable exception was actually Marshall MacLuhan).

The interactivity of the blog and the Internet in general have opened up for an active audience, quite unlike the couch potatoes.

Waldemar: I'm also very optimistic about all the opportunities internet and blogs open up.

Ashok: Thanks for a long and thoughtful comment. I do think that on a fundamental level our writings - what we write about, what we focus on and emphasis - represent us. Hastily written or not, you do see a person's empistemology at work in how they write and what they write about, especially when its unedited like in a blog.

That said, a blog, if it's not personality driven, often represents just one or a few dimensions of a person, and it's perfectly possible for that or those dimensions to be fake or out of proportion to what that person is like in real life. This is part of the 'charm' of a blog: it allows you to define identity on your own terms, and it's perfectly possible to conjure up a false personae.

Why do many of the most popular blogs end up being rather one-dimensional? Perhaps because that's what attracts the bigger audience, people like to know what they get, or perhaps there's something about a blog which tend to reinforce and strengthen a bloggers opinions? It's an interesting question, especially seeing how this is an accusation frequently levied against mainstream media: that it's so black and white, favours a cartoonlike script with clear heros and villains, allows no room for the inbetween, the many nuances and complexity.

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