Paradigm Shifts, New Media and Ownership – How Does the Virtual Define Us?

I am investigating how our personal identities are being formed, specifically how our identities are constructed in virtual environments and propagated through the replication of personal digital information. Our identity is transmitted through the diverse landscape of digital media and in a constant state of fluctuation. The meaning of this identity information depends on how our digital personae (images, tweets, texts, status updates, etc.) is viewed, consumed and read by our audience. The audience is often familiar, but it is also anonymous depending on how much information we share. Our identities are transitory, in the same way that Burnett talks about the transitory nature of the meaning embedded in an image, and can morph within the space between the viewer and the object.Below is an image of me with my seventh-grade girlfriend. Many years after this image was taken, a friend shared this image with me through a Facebook tag. I would not have known about this image until this moment of virtual sharing. In some ways, I would not have known anything about “me” from this era, because very little is documented and even less has been archived or replicated as part of my personal history. Once this image was shared, my was identity transformed by this image and my network who were exposed to this image had additional data to base their conclusions about my identity. As the history of this image suggests, it is no longer possible to simply document our being. We must also replicate and share our information to assert our identity and to know these assertions.

Through these variables (Information, Vantage Point, Documentation, Replication) I am extending my core question into the epistemology of knowing oneself, and further, knowing one’s culture. Is the knowledge of self a pattern of information? Is the knowledge of oneself acquired through a process of documenting and replicating this information? Does the context or vantage point in which we view or transmit this information alter how we know ourselves?

For the most part, I would suggest the answer is yes for each of these questions.

There might have been a time where simply taking a family photo and hanging it on your wall was enough to signify your participation and verify your being. If we use the computer metaphor we can no longer capture or download an event to our internal processor for memory and archival purposes. Uploading is also needed to imply being and assert ourselves in the continuum. Uploading, archiving and replicating information informs and shapes our identity, but also guarantees our immortality.
In Richard Dawkins‘ book, The Selfish Gene, he explains that genes preserve information by copying the information from one generation to another, spanning eons. Essentially, keeping its data safe by copying itself. He also explains that in the process of replication it also transmits the data for use in making the organism. The information is like a computer program language sending messages from nucleic acids to proteins. The gene does both, replicate information and dictate what form the information should take. We can think of our personal digital information in a similar way as our genes, in the sense that they also replicate our identity codes for preservation and they give shape and form to our being.

If we look at branding and building a brand identity as a process similar to that of building and knowing our personal identities, we can see that the processes are similar in many ways. In branding as well as constructing our identities in the virtual, it is not enough to simply list the defining characteristics of our being, we must also convince others as well. As with identity forming and brand building, it is not what you say about yourself that matters, it is what others say about you.

The notion of what others say about your brand or identity relates to the idea of a vantage point. Burnett discusses how the vantage point is always shifting and affects the meaning of an image, and the same is true of our identities. The advertisement (above) from a Mac campaign shows how products try to personify their brands, and then in the remixes below we can see how the vantage point of certain audiences don’t concur with the identity that Mac is trying to simultaneously project onto its end-user as well as its product.
The other ways we are shaping our identities through virtual information is through the storage of this information in archives such as YouTube, Flickr, Twitter, Tublr, Facebook, etc. This archival process not only asserts our documentation as authentic and immortal, but it also allows us to replicate and share our information to a broader audience.

As I mentioned earlier, the document is no longer the ends to marking participation and existence. Now, it is the process of sending, coupled with documenting that implies being. Through sending, sharing and replicating, the virtual becomes an extension of the real. In this process we step back and realize that within the virtual we are not only multi-tasking, but also “multi-lifing.” If we take some of this thinking and fold it into poststructuralist theory, I could assert that through “multi-lifing” we are aiming to document our “internal differences” as the core of our identity in the same way that Deleuze theorized that the object’s identity is “its difference from everything it is not, in other words, in its internal difference.”
Lastly, I wanted to look at memes, as a form of genetic code for our culture that helps the culture extend itself and know itself. Burnett talks about the virtual being an extension of reality and memes are very much an extension of the cultural reality as well. As with the necessity of virtual information being documented and replicated to define our identities, the same is true of memes to define culture. Cultural knowledge is embedded in memes, but they are also encoded and can only be read or understood by small portions of the population. Other memes that are more widely spread are considered viral and either have a common set of universal codes or have minimal complexity in their data structure.

Below are a few examples of memes that many members within this class may understand, but the last example, needs other digital references to unlock the meaning. I have included the video, “Friday” and several adaptions of the song that you can explore if you are interested in opening the source of meaning for the last meme.

Returning to poststructuralist theory again, Baudrillard argues that meaning and identification are only understandable in terms of how particular words or “signs” interrelate. Memes, brand messages, and our personal data, are all forms of digital information “signs” that embed meaning and identification.


Source Material:
  1. 90543041rf8.jpg (JPEG Image, 500×375 pixels) – Scaled (0%), n.d.,
  2. ads-get-a-mac-110706.gif (GIF Image, 400×350 pixels) – Scaled (0%), n.d.,
  3. “AppleInsider | Apple ditches ‘Mac Guy’ in new ads”, n.d.,
  4. best-pc-vs-mac-ad-2.jpg (JPEG Image, 588×369 pixels), n.d.,
  5. bricks-and-mortar.jpg (JPEG Image, 400×290 pixels), n.d.,
  6. eye_color.jpg (JPEG Image, 400×300 pixels), n.d.,
  7. “Gilles Deleuze – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia”, n.d.,
  8. “Jean Baudrillard – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia”, n.d.,
  9. Katy Perry Performs Rebecca Black’s Friday In Columbia, MD, 2011,
  10. Katy Perry singing Rebecca Black’s Friday, 2011,
  11. “Meme – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia”, n.d.,
  12. “Memebase: Rage Comics, Forever Alone, Y U No Guy, Troll Face, Foul Bachelor Frog”, n.d.,
  13. pc_vs_mac.jpg (JPEG Image, 340×274 pixels), n.d.,
  14. Rebecca Black – Friday – Official Music Video, 2011,
  15. Rebecca Black – Friday (OFFICIAL PARODY VIDEO) – Monday, 2011,
  16. Rebecca Black – Friday (Official Video) PARODY, 2011,
  17. Rebecca Black – Friday SPED UP 5000%, 2011,
  18. “Search Results facebook – Memebase: Rage Comics, Forever Alone, Y U No Guy, Troll Face, Foul Bachelor Frog”, n.d.,
  19. “The Information: A History, a Theory … – James Gleick – Google Books”, n.d.,
  20. “The Selfish Gene – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia”, n.d.,
Mind Mapping and Collaborative Blogging
This mind map is in response to the essays found on the Learning Through Digital Media Experiments in Technology and Pedagogy website:

  1.  Mind-Mapping Inside and Outside of the ClassroomD.E. Wittkower
  2.  When Teaching Becomes an Interaction Design Task: Networking the classroom with collaborative blogsMushon Zer-Aviv

In the first essay, D.E. Wittkower starts with loose, overarching statements about his students, saying that some “have neither the desire nor expectation that they will learn anything about digital media,” and that they are “not comfortable” with the process of writing a paper or blog post on a computer. Without developing these assumptions or giving any context to these claims, I was skeptical that D.E. would offer any specific insight to his proclaimed student’s limitations or his teaching methodologies and I found myself second-guessing my reading choice for this week’s posting. From there, he continued with specific challenges he found when incorporating a class blog into the curriculum, citing student’s comments as conversational dead-ends and lacking thought or engagement with the blog posts. D.E. seems comfortable with puting the responsibility on the students and dismissing their shortcomings as the result of “blogging” not being a part of their daily life or culture. I believe that D.E. is making some wildly generalized statements about his students and neglecting the proper self-analysis on how his instructional implementation of the blog, its parameters, and the overall blog as a class-room tool. In other words, he’s selling a poorly design “product” and attributing the failure of his product to the ineptitude of his customers. By contrast, the second essay by Mushon Zer-Aviv, went into a clear, objective critique on why he hated his class blog in graduate school, why it didn’t enhance the coursework or the class participation, and ultimately how he modified the collaborative blog as an integral, engaging and useful tool for the classes he now teaches at NYU. Not only did he recognize some of the design inherent design flaws from his earlier classroom blogging experience (ones that D.E. probably had as well), but he did so without making any assumptions about his students.
I’ll close here by returning again D.E’s essay, which seemed to be constructed in two parts. Part 1: Why Students Suck At Blogging and Part 2: Why Mind-Maps Rock. I appreciated Part 2 of his essay far more because he goes into detail about his process of “mind-mapping” which can be used for a wide variety of purposes such as research, preparing class lectures, presenting and archiving class notes, and assessing and testing student’s grasp of the material. After reading this section of D.E.’s essay it occurred to me that I haven’t worked with mind-maps in this capacity. Granted, I think there are still some limitations to how he mentions utilizing a mind-map, such as using them as prefabricated testing devices with “fill in the blank” answers, but nevertheless I was inspired to experiment with mind-mapping as a process in the future.
Part of my interest in this is because I think D.E. makes a good case on how mind-maps are superior to text-based outlines, but also because many of the ways I utilized mind-maps include transcribing brainstorming sessions for brand development projects, or wire-framing pages for a website architectures, but never as a means of note-taking, research or just generally speaking, establishing a central core concept and visually diagramming structural relationships and associations between the core and its many parts.
As a first attempt, here is a quick and very basic mind-map I created on Collaborative Blogging As A Pedagogical Tool. The central core being the discussion that these two essays were investigating about classroom blogs.
On the technical side, the software I used was Lucid Chart. I was drawn to Lucid Chart because it has a free option, it works as a Google Chrome app, and you can share it with others and work on the mind-map collaboratively. However, I’m still learning of its limitations and so I’m not sure if I can fully recommend it yet.

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