Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cyber Space and Question of Identity

(This is the second part of my article 'The Anatomy of Cyber Generation')

The writer of Six Degrees, Duncan Watt argues that network science has shown us that distance is a mere delusion. That means two persons living on the two opposite sides of the planet can get really close to each other through network, to the extent that the distance between them becomes meaningless.

Through virtual social networks also an individual can overcome the impediment of distance. Remoteness becomes a worthless thing but the existence of relationship depends on individual. It implies that a network gets two individuals close by rendering the distance meaningless, but how far this “friendship” is taken to, depends on the individuals. In the light of Postmodernism, where there is no single truth, in the virtual world the identity loses its oneness; implying that identity too does not remain as a single “truth”.

The question of identity is an important and a serious one for both an individual and a society. The role of Identity begins with an individual’s self and continues till the construction of a society’s identity. The debate of the identity of an individual is central and fundamental, and cyber culture gives this debate a new direction. Many things contribute to the development and construction of a human being’s identity. Or we can also say that the human identity has different components. For example, its way of life or religion, its family, its gender, its country or its company. Many a similar thing contributes to the construction of its personality. A few components of the identity are so crucial that a person is identified or recognized by them; and a few others are of a second level (or are sublevels) which could either be permanent or temporary. When we study in school, for example, our identity is that of a school going kid, and attitude of society towards us is also of a similar level. At times, this becomes a significant or salient component of our identity. However, as time passes by, we get released from this identity.

According to the Cartesian principles, the human identity is fixed, and there is no change taking place in it. We find a reflection of this thought is Essentialism too. Or the interpretation or construal of identity that it is fixed and that it is observant of an order and a rule is an Essentialist point of view.

This viewpoint that identity is fixed and defined has been under various criticisms in the postmodern period. According to Hall, the thought that there should be or is oneness in identity is a meaningless thought. He opines that in this world the centrality of identity is getting over and our identity now is getting de-centralized. In Hall’s belief the end of identity’s centrality plays a key role in our development/progress. He says:

In essence, the argument in that the old identities which stabilized the social world for so long are in decline, giving rise to new identities and fragmenting the modern individual as a unified subject. This so called ‘crisis of identity’ is seen as part of a wider process of change which is dislocating the central structures and processes of modern societies and undermining the frameworks which gave individuals stable anchorage in the social world.

Hall and the supporters of this perspective of his, see identity as a continuous process. In the genealogy of identity, this point of view is most strengthened by two things: firstly by the postmodern philosophers among whom Michel Foucault is noteworthy, and secondly by the cyber culture. All these things are inter-connected, and the manifestation of these conditions of identity is easily possible in cyber space. Michel Foucault has given a new dimension to this debate of identity. His philosophy has created an upheaval in the intellectual world. Foucault, while pondering over the issue of homosexuality, concludes that we have to determine identity historically. On homosexuality’s history and the place & situation at the time of its invention, Foucault argues a great deal. Foucault tries to link discourse, knowledge, power and identity with each other. He starts a new debate on sexual identity by linking homosexuality with the issue of identity. By this way of studying identity or by this viewpoint two things come into existence. First, one gets a critical point of view on identity. The significance of the relation between power and identity gets elucidated, and the historicity of identity is known. Second thing is this that if identity’s roots are deeply seated in history and then in power, then it can be constructed anew. Through the window of history we can see identity as an ever-changing thing.

These theoretical or intellectual debates have a deep relationship with the crisis of identity taking place in cyber culture or cyber space. If situation is only this that identity can be transformed or can be passed through a process of transformation, then its best example is the cyberspace. But it has to be kept in mind that in the making of cyberspace this thought has played its part. Therefore, such tools and environment have been provided to us so that a practical implementation of this viewpoint can be achieved.

Cyber Culture and Self Identity

After this basic prologue an individual, who adopts the cyber culture, has an opportunity to build his identity anew. A part of identity is that in which an individual cannot, in his/her identity, bring about a transformation nor can he/she use the tools to reveal it, through which a “new” face of his/her identity can come out. Yet, in cyber culture our identity is subject to our consciousness. We manufacture our identity by means of our consciousness: the way we are or the way we want to be. We are provided with the tools and resources by means of which we can present our identity the way we like. A case in point is the web page through which we can show a mirror of ourselves to the web users. Its look, its design, its decoration and the devices that it uses present a glimpse of our self. These web pages need not be our websites; rather the different web pages that we use are all but a reflection of our own self.

Another example is that of a “profile”. Every cyber citizen is required to, somewhere or the other, create his/her profile. While making a profile one usually faces a question and that is “about me”. And every citizen of this world says something about himself/herself. Why does cyber culture gives the option of “about me”? To write about oneself and to write it honestly is a very difficult task. But every individual tries to write something about itself. The question that arises now is whether the articulation or expression of one’s self is based on truth or it is a part of this self identity: meaning, to manufacture de novo one’s self and identity. In the “About me” column or space, every person does not write what he/she is. Rather he writes what he wants to show or to be. Both of these are possible. At times we, in our introduction, say what we want to look like. For instance, if we want to attract people’s love and sympathy towards ourselves, we project our self to be an idol or an icon of pain and suffering; whether we have actually faced or gone through pain or suffering or not, doesn’t matter. The other type of writing “About me” is that where we express what we are not but what we want to become: that is, we try to present a Desired Self. An individual’s personality when, after entering the cyber space, gets in touch with the kind of tools, and finds itself in the kind of environment, it travels in it from Actual Self to Self Identity and from Self Identity to Desired Self. One thing that gets cleared now is that Self Identity is the link between the Actual Self and the Desired Self.

Actual Self -> Self Identity -> Desired Self

It cannot be denied that in this imaginative journey, there is no house but there is time. An individual’s personality can get close to Desired Self and can return from virtual world to the real world. That means the desired self is obtained by him/her, and it starts manifesting in the real world too. And there is a real possibility that he/she, in his journey from the Actual to the Desired Self, might lose his/her own “Self”, and get a new “self” in existence which is virtually dangerous, and is also really ominous in the physical world.

In the process of obtaining this desired self, an individual or a group of individuals reveal their identity in two ways. That means in this journey their identification can be of two types:

  1. Revealing Identity
  2. Masking Identity

Revealing identity

The first situation is that where an individual reveals his/her personality and true identity in the virtual world. This can be done various ways: through photographs, interests, achievements, information and so on – through all these he/she tries to present his/her self and true identity in the virtual world. It is also possible that in this process of disclosure he/she takes time and gradually discloses his/her identity. In this course, he/she considers the virtual world with seriousness. This should be used for our benefit. The contacts and acquaintances that are made by it should be put to use in the practical world.

Masking identity

The second type can be of those users who want to keep their identity hidden; who cover up their identity. In this process of concealing, photograph, interests and various other things are either not revealed or presented falsely: using someone else’s photo instead of their own for instance. This type of identity is a character of an inquisitive mind, anxiety or leisure. Or it can also be said that such type of individuals, in the discovery of their identity, enter the virtual world as imposters. A majority of such users enter it for leisure and entertainment. However, there are also a few serious imposters in it. Cyber culture grants them an opportunity to run away from their wounded identity of the physical world and to construct a new identity in this world.

Apart from the debates mentioned above, we can classify identity in another manner. This means that cyber citizens’ (or netizens’) identification is of two more types:

  1. Global Identity
  2. Mobile Identity

Global Identity

Cyber culture provides its citizens with a global identity. This global identity means that an individual’s identification acquires a global status; moreover identity emancipates itself from the borders and national bounds. In this sense it can be said that the real time manifestation of globalization can be seen in cyber space. Boundaries and the idea of border, as a result of the identification, starts to weaken. As a consequence innumerable citizens on social networking websites forge global relationships. Status of these relationships is not of an international relationship; rather it is the individual’s will to discover a global identity in the cyber world. He/she does not remain bounded by a border to befriend an accomplished individual or a beautiful woman. Keeping his/her instincts, needs and interests in view he/she is free to build any relationship in the whole world. Consequently, in cyber space the identity becomes global. Or there is every possibility present to form a global identity. For example, on social networking websites countless Indians, who were afraid of even the name of a Pakistani, or innumerable Pakistanis, who used to feel in a state of war even with the name of an Indian, are now forming relations, and exchanging their thoughts and feelings with each other on these websites. And this happens not by just being Indian or Pakistani, nor is there the nationality of identity behind this relationship; rather it takes place by being a global identity individual, and he/she maintains relationships with this status.

The debate of global identity does not stop at the level of an individual, but the question that now arises is whether there is any possibility of a global culture by means of global identity or does the cyber space reproduce a global culture. It is right to say that birth of a real global culture is among the impossible due to the fact that identity and cultural relation have a strong connection with emotions and traditions too. Even then this point is debatable: that through this identity and this space or due to the existence of cyber space, cultural exchange is taking place too and by this, a shared global culture is also coming into existence. This point is of importance too that the forces working behind the debate of cyber culture take great interest in the global culture, by means of which their ideological and cultural objectives are achieved.

Mobile Identity

Another facet of identity, which is not so different from the other forms of identity but which is an indispensable result of globalization, is mobile identity. Globalisation, global culture and cyber space influence to a certain extent the relationship between identity and bodily existence, identity and house, identity and traditions, or separate them immanently from one another. As a result an individual creates a mobile identity of himself/herself. Therefore, 12 years earlier, Negro Ponte had said:

The post-information age will remove the limitations of geography. Digital living will include less and less dependence upon being in a specific place at a specific time, and the transmission of place itself will start to become possible in the post information age, since you may live and work at one or many locations, the concept of an ‘address’ now takes a new meaning.

The way in which identity take new forms in cyber space, mobile identity can be seen as a reverse action that an individual’s identity is not fixed, rather it’s mobile. He/she has not defined his/her identity; rather there are possibilities for change and movement in it. He/she is free from the limits of a house, and due to the global networking in cyber space his/her identity also attains mobility.

Identity and Personality’s Cyber Trend

Some cyber sociologists consider the end of identity and personality in cyber space an increasingly important issue. But the end of identity and personality is not possible completely; rather cyber space tries to give to its netizens a new identity: that identity can either be global or mobile. And consequently the dissolution of our real identity can also be felt. Its meaning also gets affected. But complete termination of identity is not possible.

Understanding of the cyber space, right attitude towards it and checking strategy about it demands that we try to understand the changing proclivity of identity and personality. John Suler in his book “The Psychology of Cyberspace” debates on the various types of identities found in cyberspace. He discusses about the following identities at the end:

  1. Psychopathic
  2. Narcissistic
  3. Schizoid
  4. paranoid
  5. depressive and manic
  6. masochistic
  7. obsessive
  8. hysterical
  9. dissociative

He speaks on these types of identities. But after understanding the cyber tendency we can say that this materialistic classification not only exists but most of the time any user after entering in cyberspace acquire any of these personalities. This means that a healthy person, who’s neither obsessive nor depressive, after entering the cyberspace, becomes both obsessive and depressive. This facet of the cyberspace is gravely dangerous. In his/her physical world the individual is healthy and intelligent but as soon as he/she enters the cyber world his/her identity starts to transform. His/her tone and way of speaking begins to change. Through the study of a few types of identity we can easily understand this cyber propensity. (To be continued…)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A new meaning of peace

Global power has global paradox. President Obama with wife Michele leaves for Oslo to receive his noble prize for peace. He will also attend the ongoing summit on climate change in Copenhagen. Obama is on way to Oslo to receive his peace prize but he is going to talk about war. After announcing that 30,000 more troops will be deployed in Afghan he will be honored as most peaceful man on earth. And while visiting one day to Denmark to lay out his goal of cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 17 % by 2020, his one day trip will generate more than 3,820 tons of carbon dioxide.

White house has cleared that in his acceptance speech at Oslo president Obama will talk about sending 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan. Spokesperson of White House Gibbs said that Obama has understanding of this noble peace prize and he doesn’t compare himself to Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela.

Obama’s peace prize will now define the meaning of peace itself. The failed American diplomacy in Middle East has raised serious question. Much hyped Cairo speech of President Obama brought no change in the condition and it can only be regarded as eloquent rhetoric.

His policy toward Palestine and deprived Gaza is just continuation of Bush policy towards Middle East. Obama’s South Asia’ policy is also not working in right direction. Perhaps the greatest intellectual alive found the right reason of choosing Obama for peace prize. Reacting on his selection Noam Chomsky said “The hopes and prospects for peace aren't well aligned -- not even close. The task is to bring them nearer. Presumably that was the intent of the Nobel Peace Prize committee in choosing President Barack Obama.”