Technology, Identity and Postmodern Theory

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Introduction

In his essay, Postmodern Virtualities, Mark Poster argues that modernity placed much value on rational, idealized and centred persons (he cites the ‘reasonable man of the law’ and the ‘educated citizen of democracy’ as examples). This however has evolved and with postmodernism comes a culture that nurtures individuality and forms of identity very different to those of modernist thought. ( Postmodern Virtualities, 1995. Online source)

As communication technologies enhance and develop rapidly, it brings with it a new configuration of individuality. People use these electronic communication methods on a daily basis, transforming the way that we ourselves communicate with each other demanding that we speak and act differently thus altering our own individuality.

This essay seeks to establish how technological development (especially with regard to virtual communities) impacts on individual’s identity today, and how this is linked with various postmodernist theories.

Firstly the author will look at what virtual communities actually are and their uses in today’s society, moving on to the realm in which these societies actually exist, cyberspace and Baudrillars’s theory of hyper reality. The author will then highlight a number of ways in which these virtual communities impact on the individual and the way in which we communicate both on and offline and how this can be linked to key post modernist theory.

Virtual Communities

In his book, Virtual Communities, Howard Rheingold describes a virtual community as “social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships”

Online communities have the capability to build relationships and connect people on both a personal and professional level, share information worldwide in seconds and allows individuals to take control of the online landscape with participatory media.

This participatory media is particularly important as it gives individuals the power to publish their own ideas and thoughts in the form of blogs, and share images, videos or software. Internet users are now finding that they can not only manage their digital identity through these virtual communities such as Facebook and Myspace, they are able to develop their personal identity by interacting and debating with other like minded users in subject specific communities such as fanzines and forums.

Cyberspace

Jean Baudrillard defined hyper reality as
“The simulation of something which never really existed”

Cyberspace can be describes as not existing in real or social space. Instead it is a virtual realm, accessed through technological ports, in which information flows. (Williams, R W, 2006. Online Source)

Baudrillard’s theory of hyper reality has often been applied to the notion of cyber space. His system of signs and the signified are explained in the text ‘Simulacra and simulations’ and are applied to describe cyberspace as being ‘ reticulated world of simulation’ (Williams, R W, 2006. Online source) The ‘signs’ that attach us to others in the virtual realm have no relation to reality and signifiers (such as a screen name in a chat room) connect with the signified (anything or anyone). When someone logs on to a chat room and starts up a conversation with another online user, they believe that they are real and the other person they converse with is virtual. The other user also holds this belief. However, both of these users, whether they are aware or not, believe that the conversation that they are having is real. This is hyper reality as it blurs the line between what is real and virtual – making it appear natural.

This question of virtual reality and the real brings us on to the next subject of public and private self and whether these are exclusive.

Participatory Media and Identity

In November 2005, the Pew Internet and American Life Project...
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