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Rob Horning on the Internet and Selfhood

Why are so many people throwing themselves into social media? I like the way Rob Horning frames the question, and a possible answer:

Why are we increasingly willing to let archives and algorithms sort out who we really are for us? Is it because . . . it feels like a concrete answer anyone can understand? . . . .

The techniques of the self permit, as Foucault remarked in his 1980 Berkeley lectures, “individuals to effect a certain number of operations on their own bodies, on their souls, on their own thoughts, on their own conduct, and this in a manner so as to transform themselves, modify themselves, or to act in a certain state of perfection, of happiness, of purity, of supernatural power, and so on.”

The question is whether social media supply these new technologies of the self, whether the widespread adoption of social media is related to a hunger for these sorts of techniques, such that the exploitive ramifications of data collection and blanket surveillance are overlooked. It is not hard to experience a kind of supernatural power, certainly, in sharing in social media, collapsing space and time to forge unprecedented forms of connection. And the continual posting is a means for perpetual transformation and self-modification. In social media, the represented self is fluid as it has never been before.

The next question, of course, is who is doing the representing.