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The Internet has allowed a postmodern view of self to dominate and serve as the solution to a dilemma that modernism has perpetuated surrounding self perception. Such a dilemma includes the identity crisis. Having only one self is restricting and can be dangerous, especially if the self is viewed as “bad” by the individual/self or others. It becomes critical, in the modernist view of self, to like oneself or else one will have to either self-hate or self-destruct. Self destruction would mean to kill off or eliminate the self-defining characteristics that one dislikes. My Mother always told me: “It’s never to late to be who you really are”. This advice functions to encourage combat against negative self-image that modernism cultivates. For some, this process is like clearing the slate. Starting from scratch will hopefully be refreshing to one’s self-esteem and self-value, but starting over as the “new you” can be a difficult and scary adjustment as well. For the same reasons, labels and stereotypes control and shape one’s identity. The postmodern, technological world loosens the powerful grip of modernism’s resulting restrictions on selfhood.
Modernism promotes an either-or option for self being one thing or another (and, hopefully, that dichotomy is not the dangerous good-bad ultimatum). On the other hand, postmodernism allows for fluidity and does not condemn or pollute the entire self with one portion of self-identity. Additionally, the worry about a “new you’s" role in society will never arise as the “new you” is just “another you” in a postmodern self concept. No one has one true self nor control over others’ perceptions of one’s selves. Therefore, one must come to terms with the fragmented, multiplicities of their own identity. Their self exists in the here-and-now, and is much less definable in simple categories. While others, then, cannot grasp and categorize your identity, the possibility exists, that neither can the self which is you. This presents a freeing and frustrating capacity for any individual worried about control. The postmodern, technology-age self is not contained. It is a limitless region abounding with environment-sensitive traits. We can imagine such a concept through the unlimited Internet—in the vast expanse called cyberspace. Viewing ourselves through, or actually as composed like, a machine unlocks such infinite possibilities in identity.
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Me, Myself, and I: More Than One
Computer programs of virtual reality deconstruct the sense of a uniform self. In MUDs , made up characters or divisions of selves can take on lives of their own. Unacceptable traits can be discovered, explored, and cultivated on engines that simulate realities. The modern technologies better allow for one to feel comfortable in certain selves in certain domains. While society may not accept one of your selves, you can better cater societies need to see you within an accepted image of self because you can just be the unaccepted self within a cyber world that does accept this self society shuns. This is not necessarily negative, but it does not allow all the selves into the “real” domain. This seemingly cheapens the authenticity or importance of one self over another.
The computer allows more selves to come out from hiding and total silence, but the awakened selves do not necessarily exist in the same worlds. One self may live in the chat room, while another self has made its way into the “real” world, for example, in your place of employment This may be a problem if the unaccepted self wishes to become manifest in a domain that will not accept that self. In other words, one might discover or nurture new identities, or selves, but they still might be restricted as to which environments these selves can live in. The individual might not progress in their interaction within the “real” world if some of their selves can only live in a computer-simulated world. Maybe the multiple, unlimited, cyberspace concepts perpetuate isolation for the selves they unleash. The Furries (or any random character in the a simulated world) in the Furry MUD cannot escape the Internet world. In this light, the Internet has complicated self even further within a certain existing level of appropriateness. The “real” world will not necessarily accept and “deal” with Furries, for instance, unless postmodernism can succeed in expanding the concept of reality. This will take one giant leap of faith by society, as we know it! However, the self is only as real as its environment, and changing one changes the other. The reality of selves within the Internet domain obscures the “unreality” of the worlds they exist in.
The Self is Out of Control!!
The danger of recognizing heterogeneity in humans lays in the acceptance dichotomy—between status quo, accepted individuals and unaccepted individuals—that influences power stratification politically, socially and economically. The modernist view of self makes one stuck in one identity. Expectations and labels will cause an individual to conform to some extent, and it will be difficult to escape others’ judgments. Therefore, modernism restricts individuals by trapping them in a single identity. The modernist self has a right and wrong behavior pattern, and a predictable interaction with one environment—the “real” world. The view of self as singular does not give a unique sense to the individual that is truly made up of many different selves—even contradictory selves—because it refuses to acknowledge selves that a person also identifies with. Recognizing a black woman solely as a woman deprives her of functioning within her whole identity, which includes her unique black experience as well. Modernism limits more than it provides uniqueness. It prevents one quality from being appreciated over another. One does not have to capitalize upon one dominant trait that will provide him/her with the most power, as in the sex-dominated world of today. For instance, a male does not have to speak only as a male, but can now speak as the eleven-fingered amazing juggler self that he wishes to be recognized as while he interacts in the “real” world. Haraway’s notion of the cyborg demonstrates the ultimate self in the culture of information technology. It allows for one to escape classification and definition by others. One can be accountable to his/her own self as to what compromises his/her.
Our words and reactions to our environment—the self’s communication—take on lives of their own, like little gremlins or monsters, so that the multiple selves become less and less controllable by a perceived “owner” or source that is the self that they came from. Responsibility, then, goes out the window at this point. Responsibility lies with the perceiver who cultivates the communication it received from that first self we mentioned above. Picture the water being sprinkled on Gizmo’s back. In a reaction to environment, the self spews out communication. These communications are then perceived by others and cultivated into gremlins at this point totally separate from the self, gizmo. They feed off of others’ perceptions of them and have nothing to do with that self. The self may feel a certain amount of responsibility for the destruction or whatever reactions their expressions might cause in the monstrous life of their own, but realistically, we all know that it was not Gizmo’s fault the little old lady got catapulted from her electronic stair-chair. Provided that the postmodern sense of celebrated multiplicity becomes accepted, no one will have to heroically attack and destroy their off shooting reflections of “true self”. Ideas take on a life of their own, and the receiver of the message will take on the responsibility of perception. Similarly, Jesus spread the seed of His message to a diverse audience. While there is no suitable or unsuitable reader of communications, there is no control over what exactly the self’s message will become. (Peters, Phaedrus, 97) Therefore, the reader and the writer are justified in their interpretations of messages. Lack over control of self-reflection (through writing or other types of communication) can be seen as a loss of control for the writer/ communicating self, but there are multiple interpretations of communications that already go on with books—messages in print. Rather than remove power from the author and self, the new perception of multiple selves will free them from the confines of a static purpose and concrete message as they must give up control over the effects of their ideas. The intentional fallacy will gradually disseminate.
The postmodern view of the self as multiple is empowering as well as confusing. It is especially empowering to typically subordinated or silenced selves. When minority voices and identities emerge from the submissive void, they remove some of the domination “accepted” selves currently have. These voices neutralize the power struggles in a world of inequality. The computer medium affects our sense of self by complicating its composition. We will eventually come to terms with this multiplicity. It is being celebrated slowly but surely. America is gradually grasping the benefits of diversity in terms of community perspectives, through affirmative action for instance, in the school classroom experience. The balance in power structure will become advantageous to those who are the best adapters, the borderland dwellers, and the line jumpers. Multiplicity is celebrated in this postmodern domain that is the cyber world realized. The reality/fantasy dichotomy is obscured. Reality is redefined as unlimited in its possibilities. You are allowed to be more than one thing and in more than one place at a time like the Native American trickster figure.
Location of Selves and Reorganization of Reality
We perceive limits in our culture of information—our postmodern world. Limits in defining a simple, modernist self are the same limits that govern the ownership of land and of ideas (hence, the copyright). Defining a person in strict terms of a single identity allows self the capacity for ownership. People feel that they have a handle over things if they know themselves in terms of a concise identity. Even more, people can be assured that they are normal or, further, powerful and significant, if they have certain “desirable” traits that make up their true selves. This sense of self causes the identity crisis, insecurities, and self-hate just as much if not more so than it gives people an assurance of knowing who “they” are.
The cyborg enacts the anticipated demolition of such reducing mirages. Cyborgs defy traditional classification, thus controllability. This threatens those in power, and it threatens those that enjoy the limits once in place. While this idea must seem to crush the strength of groups that have been defined by a unifying trait such as “male”, it really allows for far more possible groups to unify—groups that may have experienced turmoil and were unable to be classified by one word, like “woman”. Simple classifications that have discounted other portions of one’s unique experience will no longer limit or detract from one’s multiple selfhood. Then, cyborgs/selves can explore the self of choice to maximize their experience in accordance with their environment.
Finally, the quests for self as authentic will no longer persist. The authenticity of human interaction could just be a falsity. Behaviors are, after all, only as genuine or definitive as you imagine them to be. One can shape their experiences, or at least their perceptions of them, uniquely. [See Chapter 5, Speaking into the Air] Thus, the need for human contact could be viewed as another myth. People can fall in love over the Internet. The orgasm that one has in a simulated situation, like phone sex or cyber sex, is just as “real” as the one he/she would have had if the big fat hairy woman on the other end of the wire (and the orgasm) really was the skinny sexy blond thought to be communicating. “Real” interactions will take place in more simulated locations or communities. Such opportunities will arise as uniting unlikely bedfellows in coalitions and social groups, and higher education will totally move towards the online degree programs that currently exist. The myth of human contact rests on human control issues. As the machine-selves deconstruct the power structures, more computers and programs will serve our multiple selves in our multiple society whether in education or politics.
Celebrating multiple identities and imagined “reality” almost seems like a multi-personality disorder festival. Only, one piece does not wreck the entire patchwork. Rather than a weakness or lack of control, this multiperson optimizes the human experience by reaching toward the limitless. The expression “Damn, you’re a machine!” illustrates the newfound respect for the unlimited capacity for machine-like humans. In the age of technology and cyberspace, an individual’s aptitude can surpass the formerly perceived limits of humankind. I have always thought my mom’s identity as my mom (with these things on her plate: two jobs, treasurer of the athletic booster club, chairwoman of the board of Christian education at church, Sunday school teacher, master cook, Bible-studier, mystery novel reader, card-clubber, scrap-book fanatic, and friend) was more like a sub-human power ranger’s than “motherly” Harriett’s (from the television series “Ozzie and Harriett”) anyway. Cyberspace compliments the complexity and seeming power-ranger transformation that must take place for a person to function within the “real” world. The possibilities are endless, and this seems like a positive victory for the equality of mankind. The cyborg and bot could revolutionize the world’s view on multiplicity, including the consideration of multiple voices on important decisions, and overall power distribution worldwide.
Separation between the real world and simulated communities will be indistinguishable once the medium, machine-technology, completely becomes the message. This accomplishment will mark the integration of all parts of the multiple self into the same level of environment functioning—into “reality”. While MUDs and the Internet foster escape for selves that cannot function well in “reality”, it still allows for a different, but definite, reality (that opposes Disney World- or power ranger-defined fantasy). Some examples help us envision the infusion of reality and the selves that they foster. The various role demands on working mothers illustrate existing roles that play out in totally different worlds—the working world and planet domestica. Just as the MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE!!! airplane allowed for the concept of diversion, new systems of relations and communications allow for a world with no boundaries as opposed to the limited world of “reality” and its standards. If only life could become a permanent vacation! Few can achieve the ultimate freedom. However, freedom may not exist without its converse, confinement. Achieving a true Internet Reality would create an absolute anarchy that may go a little too far off the deep end. Some limits feel safe, and knowing where you begin and end might feel good. Knowing oneself, one self, can be “good” as long as the self is not monstrous or disgusting by your own or (what is at least derivative of) society’s standards. I will choose the unlimited, chaotic attempt to embrace the bot and the cyborg, because at least women will become more powerful! Freedom and self-acceptance has become the new domain of cyberspace.