I tweet, therefore I am

Are lived spaces the same thing as virtual spaces? As a matter of fact, what is a virtual space? does this sensation make it real? so then what is real? These are the questions i aim to explore in the following weeks to come, today I will be focusing on digital subjectivity- are we a 100% ourselves online.

How do we make sense of ourselves? how are we aware of ourselves? through our environment? or by just merely looking in a mirror and seeing that we exist? When we think about these questions from a digital perspective, do we have the same answers?

Travelers on..virtual highways..have..at least one body too many- the one now largely sedentary carbon-based body at the control console that suffers hunger, corpulency, illness, old age and ultimately death. The other body, a silicon- based surrogate jacked into immaterial realms of data, has superpowers, albeit virtually, and is immortal- or rather, the chosen body, an electronic avatar “decoupled” from the physical body is a program capable of enduring endless deaths (Morse 1994, 157)

Digital sensations, Ken Hillis, 1999, p166

To begin deconstructing what digital subjectivity is, i shall start by deconstructing my own digital livelihood. I use Facebook and Twitter predominantly as my social media; more of Twitter than Facebook, I shall explain why. I also use Instagram but not as occasionally as the former two. As a video producer, I have both Youtube and Vimeo accounts to share my videos. How I use these two accounts vary and i shall explain how. What i look for mostly on the web in my free time are contents like editing tutorials, I’m always on the look out for new plug ins, free plug-ins of course, except for times that i can actually afford it. I can stay on twitter just watching funny vines till i fall asleep. I watch a lot of AJ+ videos as a way to keep up with current affairs around world.

I use Twitter more than my facebook because i feel like i can be myself more on twitter than i can on facebook reason being i have all my family on my facebook and there are certain interest and reservations of mine that are just best expressed on twitter. A lot of my peers also use twitter more so for me its a better way to connect with these ‘friends’ of mine. i also prefer twitter because of the lay out of the timeline and the 140 character restriction- i know its absurd to like a restriction to expression but it makes putting the point across more straight forward and vice versa when consuming other users content. Video sharing wise, i use my vimeo and youtube very differently. I use my youtube as a more social account, and the kind of videos i post on my youtube are mostly university projects, my Vimeo contains my professional work and i work on my vimeo being my video sharing portfolio. hence i work on my vimeo page as my portfolio page for my professional work and use youtube to simply browse though the craziness (trolls) in the world.

This account of my own digital ‘self’ online typifies what Morse was saying in the quote above. From this account i have 4 ‘types’ or maybe ‘parts’ of my identity online to fit the different types of platforms specifically. To say ‘types’ will suggest that subjectivity is scattered and dislocated, to say ‘part’ suggest that there is a sense of a core self. What is problematic with this notion of a plural self is how it transforms social relations and what it transforms it into. A communication technologically inclined culture is one that replaces this real experiences by living them out through a band of computer data- the problem here is the change of empirical experiences from sensory data to computer data.

With VR, one one assumption being transformed from idea to action is that a series of extant social relations based on an individualistic understanding and practice of pluralism might be relocated to a disembodied datascape- an immaterial landscape….(this) metaphoric space assumes that the act of communication is a wholly embodied experiential reality; it exchanges communication technologies for the reality of places..

Hillis, 1999, xv

This idea of  a practice of pluralism is highly apparent within World of Warcraft. The mere option of being able to create more than one game avatar is evidence of this practice. The worlds are immaterial landscape with no real snow or dragons but a context of time created by codes ad programmes. Walter Benjamin’s the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, he writes that “but the instant the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applicable to artistic production, the total function of art is reversed. Instead of being based on ritual, it begins to be based on another practice- politics.” (Benjamin, 1968, 218)

Benjamin suggest that the dissolution of the aura of art replaces the function of art as a ritualistic purpose into art as a political purpose. Consumer culture is a big reason for the success of the adaptation of digital technology into our lives and this idea is best understood within the discourse of postmodernity.

It (postmodernism) draws on tendencies in consumer culture which favour the aestheticization of life, the assumption that the aesthetic life is the ethically good life and there is no human nature or true self, with the goal of life an endless pursuit of new experiences, value and vocabularies..

(Bertens, 1995, 212)

Featherstone brilliantly described Digital technology here even if he didn’t mean to- and this is because digital technology best describes the kind of times we are currently living in- postmodern. This pursuit of happiness we seek within the digital space has an affect on our subjectivity. Katherine Hayles explains that this is highly mediated by market relations-

the liberal self is produced by market relations and does not predate them. This paradox is resolved in the posthuman by doing away with the “natural” self.

(Hayles, 1999, 3)

This pursuit of new experiences featherstone is talking about here suggest the search of a means to escape- ..seeking out and creating “information superhighways” that permit “migration to new “electronic frontiers” offers an imaginative and apparently compelling utopian alternative to physically going “on the road” (Hillis, 1999, introduction xvii). We constantly negate the real, we ether do this or consciously accept the virtual as being ‘just as good as’ what we know to be real. The worlds are not real in world pf warcraft but immersion makes them real to us, the motifs of our actions, our success in the game is important to us and this acknowledgement makes this reality real to us. We migrate to these forms of spaces to seek escape from the one we are already in, a search for an utopian alternative.

 

 

Bibliography

Bertens, Johannes Willem. The Idea Of The Postmodern. London: Routledge, 1995. Print.

Hayles, Katherine. How We Became Posthuman. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1999. Print.

Hillis, K. (1999) Digital Sensations. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

Benjamin, Walter, Hannah Arendt, and Harry Zohn. Illuminations. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968. Print.

Peer Pressure or Shared Pressure?

Are lived spaces the same thing as virtual spaces? As a matter of fact, what is a virtual space? does this sensation make it real? so then what is real? These are the questions i aim to explore in the following weeks to come, today I will be focusing on virtual emotion- affective technologies.

So far so good i have spoken about how the idea of community has changed in the context of todays society as a result of how digital technology highly mediates our way of lives. I went on to talk about how we come to make sense of ourselves within these digital communities through our avatars. At this point, we cannot afford to talk about immersion without bringing up the emotions that are apparent in these spaces and how they affect ‘digital’ bodies. So to begin with, what is affect?

Affect therefore precedes emotions; affect is not conscious, but it has a dynamism, a sociality or social productivity. The effects of affect, however, are not predictable: affective change from passivity to activity, from inertia to motivation, for example, is not reducible to a single stimulus

Affect is an intangible visceral force that is innate within us; in my last post I explained that affect is evidence that suggests the coherence that exist between the mind and the body and how this enables us make sense of our ‘self’- our Subjectivity. Affect in the long run determines how we view the world because these are innate emotions that continually learn about the world around us and respond according to the script that is informed by our experiences. For example, when Tola was five years old, she had a horrible experience with spiders once and since then she has had a very strong phobia for spiders that is still apparent in her twenties. This fear of spiders has been infused into Tola’s Affect script thus making her senses- mind and body react to spiders in a fearful manner. Affect are those emotions we don’t understand but come to understand through language- these emotions although innate have today been determined by definition through social construct. We are taught how to love, we are taught what to hate and how anger is supposed to be felt- so then is affect nurtured or natured? Digital media in todays capitalist structure intensifies this affective education. The use of emoticons is one evidence that supports my claim here. Emoticons are animated emotions on our mobile devices that we can use to depict how we are feeling. Emotions have now been classified into simple animations, this in itself is a form of affective education- the simplification of innate emotions to animated images shows us what for instance, what love looks like and even disgust. The emoticons present on our phones match perfectly with Tomkins 9 categories of affect. Tomkins highly invested much of his work into the affect theory. Tomkins categories include the positive affects; interest and enjoyment/joy, the neutral affect; surprise, the negative affects; fear, distress/anguish, anger/rage, dissmell, disgust and shame/hallucination. On the apple software, which is what i use and prefer, there is a characterisation of all these emotions and even more so on the recent keyboard update that has now added a middle finger emoji, this form of education taking the form of expression is how we can come to make sense of digital ‘affect’, networked affect, performance however, is key to the understanding of a networked affect.

Affect is this force that is within and without. It moves us toward something or away from something. Like when we come across the smell of rotten food our bodily reactions are that of disgust and we want to get away from such smell quickly. This comes to play in our interaction with the world outside ourselves. We move towards stimulants that create positive affects and away from stimulants that create negative affects. Social construction is evidence that suggest that affect is not subjected to just one individual but can be spread across a community- in other words affect can be networked. This is what we can come to call crowd mentality. Peters and Kashima define this idea of crowd mentality as affective diffusion-

Although affect diffusion is universally considered a form of social influence that involves the social acquisition or transfer of affective states, there is little consensus around its precise nature…..We define affect diffusion as a process whereby one person’s affective action—that is, an action that reflects or provides information about his or her current affective state—leads another person to experience a congruent affective state

From the term, ‘affect diffusion’, this already suggest a process of the dissemination of emotions from one source outwards- diffusion. for this process to be effective there are two(2) requisites; the expresser and the audience. A third part Peter and Kashima added to this process of affective diffusion is empathy. As established in the beginning, we cannot afford to explore immersion without the consequences of emotional engagement. Empathy in this sense is the emotion that flows from an understanding of the relevance of the target from the expresser’s well being. How these three work together coupled with performance in the digital space boils down to the emotional attachment to be a part of this process, the desire to perform this process so as to feel a-part-of something or group. The process of affective diffusion is fuelled by the desire to belong. the term belonging suggests both identification and a sense of shared imaginary possessions or belongings (Ferreday, 2009, 29). As pointed out by Ferreday, this term belonging come from a sense of identification of shared cultural practices  with others, affect suggests we move towards these groups as a way of searching for the positive affects.

the desire for some sort of attachment, be it to other people, places, or modes of being, an the ways in which individuals and groups are caught within wanting to belong, wanting to become, a process that us fuelled by yearning rather that the positing of identity as a stable state. (Probyn, 1996, 19)

This desire for attachment intensifies the process of affective diffusion in digital space and affective technologies take advantage of this affective economy.

Affective technologies intensify this networked affect. World of Warcraft as an affective technology creates an environment of belonging from the creation of your personal avatar to the environment or world where this character is placed, or belongs. I chose to be a dwarf in the game and i was placed in a world that belonged to the dwarves, to defend the land from being taken by Orks. I already felt a part of this world merely by seeing all these other characters that all chose to be a part of this world, its creates a form of community of dwarves that is secluded from all the other races- human, elves etc and from my post on communities, there appears to be a contract of a common project in mind, to fight and defend the land that belongs to the dwarves. This common project increases my desire to increase my avatars level on the game so i can go on to do bigger options, this is what brings me back to the game all the time. Social media is one affective technology that we can use to understand this process and i will explain this process on social media by focusing on trends or hashtags as a means of affective diffusion. The most popular hashtags on twitter become trends. These ‘trends’ are evidence of affective diffusion in that they suggest the congruence of a particular topic or interest. The more these trends appear on our timeline, the more moved we are to think or even tweet about this topic and the more these topics generate more traffic hence, the construction of affective diffusion.

Some signs, that is, increase in affective value as an effect of the movement between signs: the more they circulate, the more affective they become, and the more they appear to contain affect. (Ahmed, 2004, 120)

Textual representations of our affects in the form of the ‘like’ button on Facebook which is a ‘thumbs up’ or as on twitter in form of a ‘heart’ shape become problematic because this cultural practice in digital space simplify affect as pre-discursive. Affect is not something we reason but is something we act out. The implications of simplifying emotions to animations has profound effects on our subjectivity because our senses adapt and change as our cultural practices change. So are we ever really ourselves in these digital spaces or simply textual representation like our emotions? how about you answer this for yourself.

..emotions do things, they align individuals with communities-or bodily space with social space-through the very intensity of their attachments. Rather than seeing emotions as psychological dispositions, we need to consider how they work, in concrete and particualra ways to mediate the relationship between the psychic and the social, and between the social and the collective. (Ahmed, 2004, 119)

Sara Ahmed.

 

Bibliography

Ahmed, S. ‘Affective Economies’. Social Text 22.2 79 (2004): 117-139. Web.

Ferreday, D. (2009) Online Belongings. Oxford: Peter Lang

Probyn, Elspeth. Outside Belongings. New York: Routledge, 1996. Print.

THE BODY, THE MIND AND THE AVATAR.

Are lived spaces the same thing as virtual spaces? As a matter of fact, what is a virtual space? does this sensation make it real? so then what is real? These are the questions I aim to explore in the following weeks to come, today I will be focusing on virtual bodies- the avatar.

…this core is located within the modern understanding that one is ‘present to one self’- imaginatively and physically. The embodied and imaginative Hobbesian “author”- a naming of that which ontologically may precede naming- still watches over the ‘actor’ on the myriad stages of life. (Hillis, 1999, introduction xxxi) 

The ‘author’ in this quote from Hillis Digital sensations is the mind. This is the part of the self that informs our morality and ethics, the part of the self that drives and guides the ‘actor’- the body. The self is born out of a recognition of our physicality , in thought and practice- ‘imaginatively and physically’. Descartes famous quote- ‘I think, therefore I am’ proposes this sense of self, its transcribes to mean- if I think i exist then i must exist, also if I can think of myself for myself then I must exist- this ontological approach to identity is how we come to make sense of ourselves, consciously or subconsciously. It highlights the importance of the juxtaposition of both the mind and body not as separate, but as one entity being put into play by the self in the process of identity formation and performance. I mean can the mind really exist outside the body? Thats like a car without engine, its like a company without a brand, religiously speaking- a vessel without a soul. I believe this connotes one important thing, the soul is important for the vessel to move, in a sense this means if our ‘soul’ so to speak represents our mind, then we embody our physical bodies, our bodies is basically like a spaceship and our mind the captain or even pilot. Tomkins Affect theory however suggest our body reacts to situations before our mind does, our body smiles before we acknowledge our reaction of happiness. Tomkins uses a SAR format to explain how our body comes to terms with understanding and reacting to information. The SAR format is basically- Stimulus-Affect-Reaction. For instance- when we hear a random pop sound (stimulus) this surprises us (affect) which in turn makes us flinch or search for the incoming danger (reaction). In this sense, our bodies react before our mind does, as we grow older we start to understand these innate emotions through reflexivity and even performance. This goes to show the mind and body cannot be separated, they work together to make sense of the self. If the ‘self’ as in our ontological being comprises of both our body and mind then what does our Avatar comprise of? Do textual representations of our ‘self’ bring our physicality into consideration? whatever the answer may be- how does this digital embodiment affect our identity?

Historically, identities have been structured by labels, class or status- as in the case of race and gender and also in terms of wealth and education. Identity was and is still a given- when we are born we are automatically ascribed a race, gender, social status and even religious belief. but something changed along the way, something somewhere put the consciousness of the power of our own identity into our hands to form and perform as we choose.This acknowledgement of the sense of our self is born out of a post modern ideology of identity.

Postmodernity collapses the idea of binary oppositions such as illusion and truth, appearance and reality, culture and nature. (Hillis, 1999, introduction xxix Lorenzo Simpson describes postmodernity as ‘an allegiance to the idea that all reality is a social and linguistic construction’ hence the ‘demiurgic desire to be the origin of the real’- to be the originators, the authors of our own reality. This idea proposes that we wish to perform and own our identity(ies) as efficient as possible. It proposes that the world starts from our own one ontological ground, reality begins with us and is then extended.

This postmodernity sensibility is highly apparent and can be seen in the extensions of ourselves- our phones, tablets and even our avatar- which is my primary focus. Digital technology is a cultural technology in that in this extensions we can and do create and perform a range of identities. This extensions are for us to do as we please, the avatar is a good place to start deconstructing this performance.

On World of Warcraft, I was given a female Worgen in a warrior costume but then i chose a dwarf character. While customising i paid more attention to the skin tone and facial hair style because i was trying to make it look as close to me as possible, like a dwarf version of ade. i chose a dwarf because of the movie- The Hobbit, it sold the character of the dwarves to me in terms of why they fight and what they fight for.

This is a field note I took whilst playing the World of Warcraft game. This is the moment i first started playing the game and had to think about my avatar customisation. His name remains my twitter handle- AdeofEsie, but if i was to name him aything i think i would have gone for something like ‘black death’ or even ‘black dwarf king’. Reflecting now why i would have gone for something like this was to represent myself in that moment as realistic as possible. My avatar becomes an extension because it is informed by my sense of identity (black bearded male) and even my interest (The Hobbit), in a way my avatar has become a digital version of ‘ME’ in that moment. I believe we are always subject to change, maybe not even change but evolution, as we go through experiences in the world i believe the canvas of our mind and our sensibilities continually adapt and evolve- so maybe not change but evolution, with that being said, if my sense of self is different in the next 5 years will i make a completely different avatar character for World of Warcraft? i say absolutely yes. The avatar thus becomes a textual representation of both our minds and body, we choose our display pictures on the internet based on how we want the world perceive us and so to our game profile names and avatar. So do textual representations take the real away from the material? If so then how are emotions to be understood in digital space- in my next post i would be focusing on these questions.

 

Bibliography

Hillis, K. (1999) Digital Sensations. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

I HAVE NOT SEEN MY COMMUNITY FOR YEARS BUT I SEE THEM EVERYDAY.

Are lived spaces the same thing as virtual spaces? As a matter of fact, what is a virtual space? does this sensation make it real? so then what is real? These are the questions i aim to explore in the following weeks to come, the irony in the title is the exact type of irony that typifies the idea of the internet today I will be focusing on virtual places- community.

Community as defined by Lemos, now signifies a social collectivity..in which the contract, institutionalisation, a common project, a certain utopian optimism, the appearance of proximity, a physical territoriality and form of communication which are direct or almost unmediated, prevail. (1996) This definition is half right in todays context. The context of our way of living today is highly mediated by digital technology.  Digital technology abets cyberspace. Marcos Novak describes cyberspace as a platform enabling full copresence and interaction of multiple users allowing input and output from and to the human sensorium permitting simulations of real and virtual realities (1992, 225) There are two things that stand out in Lemos definition from Novak’s description of cyberspace when it comes to appropriating the definition of community to cyberspace- the appearance of proximity and physical territoriality. Cyberspace is a form of communication that has within it diverse forms of communication and social media is a headline example. It also holds an utopian optimism, one of which permits an irony of escapism- escape into this virtual space where we can be ourselves and many others- I will be exploring this concept more in my next posts to come, for now lets focus on community.

Lemos definition is challenged here because of the context of culture today. The appearance of proximity is also apparent in cyberspace. The way the social media timelines are structured, Facebook for instant, vertically sliding upward for recent updates and downwards for previous updates, gives a sense of real time. Within this timeline we see and engage with multiple users, users we do not necessarily have to interact with but their presence and confessions on our timeline makes their presence real to us.

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 11.29.07

Facebook makes a good case study when trying to understand proximity in virtual space. Since its wide acceptance in September 2006, a time when Facebook opened up the social site from the education institutions to the wide public allowing access through personal emails, Facebook has become increasingly popular in the work place to the family unit and also, undoubtedly, advertisers and capitalist. Why Facebook makes a good example for me to use to explain proximity has to do with my personal experience with this site. I have had Facebook since 2009, i was aged 17 at this time, about to conclude my secondary school education whilst I was in Nigeria.Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 11.30.53 Since I came to England, I have only kept in contact with my high school friends through Facebook.

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 11.28.25

This is just part of my digital experience with this site- to further understand this sense of community I decided to explore digital experience from an others perspective thats not mine by talking with two female students, both studying criminology. My talk with Rebecca, who I will be focusing on, gave me an interesting insight into her digital experience which allowed me to think further about proximity.

Rebecca is from Malta, born and raised. She left Malta to pursue her studies in England and so is always far from home- family and friends. Being a Law student, our conversation took the form of a debate. I stated that our physical communities can be likened to online communities and she disagreed. So I decided to focus on her Malta community to try and explain my point. She said, ‘I left Malta to study in the UK because if I didn’t i will probably have to get married to someone and remain in Malta with my family’ She told me anytime she goes back home and sees her old friends it is always awkward because they hadn’t seen each other for up to a year. This is the part I personally found amusing. The way virtual technology works there does not have to be a catch up between Rebecca and her friends because she can see them and everything they are up to in real time, virtually. She said to me she left her community to further her studies but then i replied ‘you never really left’; you see Rebecca physically removed herself from this community but on Facebook, online, she is still very much in this community. I asked her if she sees them all the time on Facebook and she said yes- these friends (which she is inherently avoiding to get away from Malta) are within her proximity- virtual space, real time and even personal relationship.

Virtual technology expands of idea of what community means. It takes the possibilities of culture to greater lengths, being part of identity is not by birth, race or cultural background in the virtual world. It is by act of performance for a desire to belong, a desire for attachment to fill among a cohort of your using. This desire for attachment starts from the individual and his extension- his/her phone, and then diffuses into the virtual space where we can feel like ourselves within our cohort, or online community.

My experience with World of Warcraft as it pertains to community was one of isolation. The fact that I am the only dwarf in class does not help at all, and also that this is my first time playing this game, made it even worse. In my virtual world I felt lost and I tried talking to other players, but they were not really nice and just told me to go kill something. Everyone in class seemed to be getting on fine but i was just getting used to my new world and new body in which i had no friends. This did start to upset me because i was really trying to get into the game, reflecting now, as i felt in the virtual world- lost and isolated is how i felt in class, real space. How these virtual feelings unmaterialise their self in our real lives is what I will be getting into in my next post.

 

Bibliography

Hillis, K. (1999) Digital Sensations. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press