Reading Ourselves

My most used word on Facebook in 2010 was “love,” according to the “Top Words” application. Down to my word choices, I’ve carefully constructed my identity on Facebook, making it match my most cherished self-representation.

“To me, it seems wonderfully fitting for you that the word ‘love’ is number one,” a friend from high school commented on my post. Ah, yes, I’ve constructed it well. After all, “identity is something we do, rather than simply something we are,” as David Buckingham wrote in “Introducing Identity” (8).

Summarizing Anthony Giddens, Buckingham states, “Modern individuals have to be constantly ‘self-reflective,’ making decisions about what they should do and who they should be. The self becomes a kind of ‘project’ that individuals have to work on” (9).

But what about those who are less fastidious about the details they disclose, or those that lack what Michel Foucault calls self-monitoring and self-surveillance? (A few girls got kicked out of my undergraduate university’s dorms freshman year for being caught red handed in Facebook photos, or at least holding red Solo cups.) The majority of my friends on Facebook are from high school and college, meaning they’re “digital natives,” or those born after 1986, but they seem to lack the critical reading skills needed for the Internet, let alone our classrooms.

In her post last week, Sarah Powers nailed this week’s topic even before the readings: “Online, they [students] are both consumers and producers of text. But this doesn’t ensure that they’re acting as critics (self—or otherwise) in the sense of critical literacy.”

Every reading in my grad courses this week has been about teaching my future students to read. In “Using Reading in the Writing Classroom,” Donna Qualley writes that she encourages ‘metacognitive’ reflection, in which students “read themselves and their work to gauge their own development as readers and writers” (123; emphasis mine).

Reading ourselves, it seems, is skill, possibly learned in college English literature classrooms, along with self-crafting, -censoring and -criticizing. Students are ‘reading’ each other all the time on Facebook, but that doesn’t always translate into self-reflection. For her students’ sakes, it seems the composition instructor, as Kathleen McCormick writes, does need to adopt a view of ‘reading’ that includes both the word and the world—Facebook included.


One comment on “Reading Ourselves

  1. Hi Emily, I’d like to continue thinking about the Giddens/Foucault line of thought that you’ve begun here. According to Buckingham,

    “What Giddens describes as self-reflexivity is seen by Foucault in much more sinister terms, as a process of self-monitoring and self-surveillance. Giddens’ ‘project of the self’ is recast here as a matter of individuals policing themselves, and the forms of confession, in which individuals are constantly required to account for themselves and “speak the truth” about their identities.”

    What fascinates me is not that Facebook allows for a cherished self-representation, but that via the word frequency app, Facebook allows for a sort of self-surveillance not only of our actual selves, but of a symbolic extension of ourselves that may or may not be an accurate representation of who we are in actuality, but who we think we are, or would like to be in actuality. I wonder, does technology such as Facebook allow us to bifurcate ourselves into an actual lived being, and a virtual being that we would like to be more like? (Or is this more in the domain of Second Life?) Does this sort of self-reflection/monitoring/surveillance allow us to project a self, a self that we would like to resemble more accurately, upon a screen? Is that Facebook profile an enabling fiction of sorts? This makes me think back to the Reid piece “The Evolution of Writing”:

    “The [archaeological]argument is that this explosion in cognitive ability is tied to the expansion of symbolic behavior…I take this argument one step further and suggest that this evidence indicates that it is an error to imagine human thought as purely internal to an individual self; that in fact what makes human thought so dynamic and powerful is that it is largely external (or more precisely that the internal/external binary is misleading…though cave-paintings are distant from digital media, I seek to demonstrate that while the artificial intelligence and information networks of new media create a powerful network of distributed cognition, in doing so they do not change the fundamental relationship between embodied cognition, consciousness and technology. As the philosophy of the virtual-actual indicates, we have always thought this way” (22-23)

    I have a hard time believing that humans have always thought in Facebook. Is Facebook and blogging the pinnacle of symbolic behavior for the masses? I know that I have gotten away from my original beginning with Giddens/Foucault, but I sense that it still pertains here, somehow. Let me see…ah yes… “Speaking the truth about our identities”. Maybe we are not simply “speaking the truth about our identities”, or “confessing”, as Foucault (according to Buckingham) might have us believe. Maybe we are doing something else, something different, although not entirely. I have a hard time buying Reid’s line that, ostensibly, Facebooking is just like cave-painting. I think that there is some ontological newness about it all, as Lankshear and Knobel might put it. I don’t think that them cave-people were putting profiles of themselves up on them cave walls. But who knows? While there may be some aspects of cave-paintings and new media that resemble one another, I think that something different is happening here and now, as we are able and inclined to project and revise our digital renditions of ourselves so rapidly and easily…and by extension, perhaps our very “selves”.

    And though I am certain that it is all a little sinister, I am not certain that it is altogether sinister that we are actively constructing/revising/policing ourselves, even if we may be, in the process, turning our selves into commodities for mass consumption.

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