Friday, June 27

stuffed and unstuffed selves

today I will officially be moved out of and moved on from this little porch and the tiny apartment behind it. it's been practically empty since Tuesday, thanks to the muscles and work ethics of a handful of not-thanked-enough colleagues and friends.

in the meantime I've been indulging in the gooey, unsettling, intoxicating fuzz of being uncentered from almost everywhere and detached from almost everything but a suitcase.
in a few hours I will get on a plane with that suitcase and I will end up, bright and early Saturday morning, in Manchester.

what will I find there?
will I take useful, people-containing photographs of any of it, or will I be too distracted by weird-looking, random, faceless corners?

will the things I take photographs of and post photographs of and scroll backwards through photographs of next semester or next year, will those things and their places mean something more because I took time to capture the shape of them in pixels?

I read Katie King's Networked Reenactments last week, as part of my summer reading. at one point, King references the fact that we own all these devices, and we are only some of what they can do for us. the wonky-seeming direction of that be-verb strikes me. we are only some of all those networked machines. and today, when this afternoon I saw the digital soliloquizing of Aral Balkan along similar lines, I decided to put the two together and muse about technology and selfhood for a while.

Balkan says that we relate to our devices as to some kind of "extended mind." your memories are over here, in your typed-up to-do list and your instant messenger chat logs and that journal you've been writing in for more than a year.

your stuff, whether it is pixelly digital stuff or paper and ink stuff or nuts and bolts stuff, is part of how you work. you could survive without most of it, probably, but you generally don't, do you?

in the textbook I'll be teaching from this fall, there is a section about this stuff/self relationship featuring an essay by the guy behind this online ebay project from the early 2000s (friend Shara, take note: Mr. Freyer is at least superficially channeling our fictional icon of minimalism, Larry himself). interestingly, included on the sold list is the domain name itself: allmylifeforsale.com. it now belongs to a university art museum.

the fact that we can own and buy and sell things like domain names is quite fascinating, since those things boil down to so many ones and zeros connected up with a bunch of other ones and zeros. the world is made of information (or so says the current reigning metaphor), and controlling that information = power and glory and fame. maybe.

your stuff and your information = you. numbers, gadgets, memories... but how do you know which things are yours, or which things even can be yours? how do you know when it's your stuff? with a car or a sofa it's pretty easy. but do you own those instant messenger chat logs? exclusively?

in this live talk Aral Balkan gave some months ago, he speaks of a digital self, and asserts that a digital self deserves rights and privacies and legal protection (from massive corporate information-grubbing entities like the Google and the Facebook) as much as a physical self does (presumably from abusive maniacs, ruthless criminals, and/or human traffickers). upon my first watching of the talk, I really wasn't sure what the term "digital self" could really mean. I was trying to think of it as a new, separate thing. but if my digital self isn't separate at all...does that make it easier to conceptualize? maybe.
there are many, many questions hooked around all these concepts. I will keep pondering them. Balkan conveniently pointed to a relevant dissertation (from a fellow at University of Plymouth, even) titled On Why We Should Treat Data As If It Were Physical. someday I will read it and try not to wish I had written the thing.

somewhere it is written that there's no such thing as immaterial matter. no matter how intangible they seem, all these memories and fleeting experiences and unstated expectations and all the data floating around as we record and interpret it all can't exist outside some physical system of flesh and blood or screens and light to make it manifest. so it matters, and it is matter.
most of my stuff--sofa, shelves, and notebooks galore--is sitting for now in a few Lafayette spaces that I won't see or touch for a whole four weeks. I'm about to unplug and power off this little macbook for the day, too. I'll be separated from those sections of my self for a while, which sort of means that being in two or three places at once isn't as impossible as it sounds.

2 comments:

Cassànndrè Sager said...

Hmm... digital self. I carry a journal around and write in it pretty regularly. But sometimes there are facebook conversations I think should be a part of the record of my life (usually they are something like venting to a girlfriend haha). And if I don't feel like hand-writing something (or can't), I send emails to myself. It's funny, I find myself occasionally referencing these emails in my physical journal. Wouldn't want myself or whoever else reads it (hopefully not till I'm old or dead) to miss out on some critical information! This system works for me, but it does make me chuckle at myself sometimes.

amelia chesley said...

ah, a multimodal record, hm? neat. which technology will last longest, we might ask. which is/will be more accessible (and to whom) in fifty years?