The idea of an immutable, essential identity is one of the cherished (albeit unexamined) assumptions of human subjectivity. Indeed, pop psychologists, self-help gurus, and myriad advertisements, to name just a few examples, urge us to find and express our "true selves." Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City, William J. Mitchell's study of digital information technology's effects on human activity, claims that deterritorializating and dematerializating information blurs identity:
Sometimes these extended flow systems . . . introduce identity impedance. . . . [O]n the Internet, as has endlessly been remarked, nobody knows I'm a ___. As my body extends artificially from its fleshy core, its gender, race, and even species markers may fade. It may acquire multiple, sometime contradictory aliases, masks, and veils. Its agents and avatars in particular contexts may be ambiguous or deceptive — as when I choose an electronic skin to represent me in a videogame. Its very location may become indeterminate, and it may hide itself behind encryption schemes and proxy servers.
1. What, if any, identities attach themselves to the virtual subject?
2. Are there previously unimagined identities that are created by networked information technology? Are there any new uses for old identities?
3. The internet is a realm of dematerialized information; in contrast, many of our shared identities, such as race and sex, are (at least perceived to be) rooted in materiality. Does the increased reliance on digital communication through networks render these categories increasingly obsolete, or is the virtual space also gendered and racialized?
4. Is there an ethical imperative that people represent themselves truthfully on the internet?
5. Are these sometimes-contradictory virtual identities false?
Mitchell, William J. Me++: The Cyborg Self and the Networked City. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2003.
Last modified 13 September 2006