“Born Digital” Experiences: Identity crisis waiting to happen?

HuCo 500 – Weekly questions

Questions:

Note: Rather than two separate questions, this week I’ve come up with a series of related questions addressing a single idea inspired by one of the readings. These questions take the form of a short, personal response.

As our lives and experiences become more digital, the records of our experiences become less tangible. (Viegas et al, 2004)

Is this statement true? It seems to me when considering the digital/analog dichotomy, the ‘record of our experiences’ has in fact become more explicit with the advent of the Internet. Social media applications such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter allow us to track our lives in the most minute detail; blogging, microblogging, “lifestreams”, these all provide ways for us to record and trace our experiences over time. Social networks (Facebook, MySpace) allow us to track the relationships that we maintain and the patterns that they represent in our lives. If anything, the ‘record of our experiences’ has become more tangible, not less. The question is rather how accurate a representation of our experiences is the record? Our digital record naturally biases our “born digital” experiences (to borrow a term from last week’s readings); the Internet is a space in which we spend a significant portion of our lives and where we have experiences (rather than simply being a medium with which to record them). For example, the relationships we make within a massively multiplayer online game (MMO) may be more heavily recorded online than relationships we have in our “analog” lives. Does that make them more or less real? More or less important?

The argument presented by Viegas et al. suggests that there are digital experiences that are obscured from the record; but how is this different than “analog” experiences (i.e. the experiences that occur outside the digital space)? There are many things that we do that do not require, demand, or deserve to be recorded. I can’t remember, for instance, what I had for breakfast three weeks ago last Monday. In this sense, the record has not become more or less tangible; it is, perhaps, less relevant. Perhaps the problem is how we make sense of the massive amount of information we create in the digital space. We need to translate the digital record of our experiences into something we can interpret more easily– into something “analog”. Visualization is one of the tools that allow us to do this. In essence, visualization is translation of digital media.

Viegas et al. indicate that we attach personal meaning to objects, that these objects are tied to our senses of self and reality, of what is and who we are. The fact that they are examining email as one such object indicates that these objects can just as easily be virtual as physical. As our lives become more digital, so will the objects we imbue with meaning. What will this mean for us and how we construct our realities?

Readings:

Viegas, Fernanda, danah boyd, David H. Nguyen, Jeffrey Potter, and Judith Donath (2004). Digital Artifacts for Remembering and Storytelling: PostHistory and SocialNetworkFragments. Proceedings of the 37th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences.

Arya, Agustin (2003). The Hidden Side of Visualization. Techné: Research in Philosophy and Technology. Winter 2003.

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