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Our Virtual Selves

When I was signing up for a Writing Seminar for this semester, I knew I wanted to take a class where I would learn something different. I have spent my entire academic life studying the basics (Math, Social Studies, Science, etc), and wanted to expand my knowledge of something ‘off the beaten path’; something cool. So, when I saw the option to look into Representations of Digital Culture, I knew it was for me. Technology, and its affect on both individuals and entire cultures, has always fascinated me, and coming into the semester, I was ecstatic to see how the class would handle the broad issue of digital culture. Needless to say, this class has not disappointed. Not only has it introduced me to great texts I’ve never read (or heard of) and notions I’ve never considered, but it has also explored, in great depth, an issue that attracted me to the class in the first place; that is, how does technology shape who we are as people? In what ways has the emergence of a virtual world changed our culture? From the first day of class until today, that has been a principal theme, shaping our discussion of essays, books, TV shows, and movies.

Starting with Neuromancer, we saw how an individual’s life in the virtual world can both influence, and ultimately become, their life in meatspace. In the dystopian underworld that is Chiba City, people’s lives revolve around hacking into, and stealing from, cyberspace. Case is notoriously known as a ‘console cowboy’, suggesting that one’s involvement in the virtual world reflects how they are viewed in the real world, as well. Looking back on it, I think Neuromancer was the perfect text to start off the class; the novel not only set the stage for cyberpunk and introduced the contrast between a real world and a virtual world, but also paved the way for our discussion of more pertinent, real-world examples. Thus, when the discussion moved from Dixie Flatline Constructs to Facebook, we were armed with the knowledge of how to dissect any text from a technological perspective.

One of my favorite works we discussed in class was the Futarama episode, Attack of the Killer App. Despite its cartoon visuals and satirical subject matter, the notion of the iPhone (or eyePhone) being ‘within us’ holds true in today’s world. In fact, Aimee even alludes to this in Cell Phones in our Skin, as she writes that “the electronic cigarette is the first step in the full consolidation of humans in technology”, suggesting that perhaps cell phones in our skin is the next step in this progression. Yet whereas the concept of technology being within us is still years away, we cannot question that we face a pending ubiquity of technology in the world around us, even on Vanderbilt’s campus. Everywhere you walk, people’s faces are buried in their phones, BBMing and checking Facebook. In fact, one can argue that we all live concurrent lives: one real, meatspace existence, and another lifestyle rooted in technology and the virtual world. This has been touched upon by many of my classmates in blog posts, a comforting notion, as it suggests that I am not the only one riveted by technology’s influence on our identities. In Online Orgy Cult, Katie indicates that perhaps these two lives are not meant to interact, as she writes that “friends you make on Facebook are not supposed to fall into your real life. . .[and] the way people interact with one another on Facebook is not how they interact in person.” This need to keep lives separate, as Katie argues, suggests that we are not the same person across the realms of technology, meaning that social networking, texting, and iChat have created a virtual being out of all of us. Moreover, as Alexie brings up in Facetime: Bringing us Together, or Apart? technology has been a “force of depersonalization”,  as “people are beginning to have ‘cyber personalities’, completely different from whom they are in person.” Whereas people used to call each other to make plans, and talk in person (gasp!), “our youngest generation feels more comfortable texting each other than picking up the phone to make a call.” Through all the evidence presented to me from works in the class, and more importantly, from the ideas of my classmates, I have to agree with the words of Aimee, Katie, and Alexie. While technology is great, and has enhanced our ability to connect with one another, it comes with a cost. That is, technology has adversely affected many of our identities, transforming us into text messages, Myspace pages, or even a face behind a screen. Though I did have some sense of this prior to this semester, our class has allowed me to more fully grasp the idea of technological identity.

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