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January 2019    Dennis R. DuBe'     728/3173

Self Documentation in the Web Age
          Roger Wade, PhD. #3173   Created   Updated 02/11/2016

One thing I have noticed about many techy types, and even many of those not imbibing quite as much in the high tech intoxications, is that they are very into documenting their own existence. Facebook being one of the primary venues for this personal record keeping. Accumulating mementoes of personhood is certainly not a new phenomenon. Probably the earliest of the species began to create hand prints on cave walls with some hope of being remembered. Our grand parents did it a bit, family bibles, the rare photo, etc. Our parents with better and cheaper technology created far deeper records of their existence. Snapping family photos with the Browny was a rage. But now there is deluge of personal data being archived. Much of this is occurring on line.

For example, just the other day I went on line to see what I could find out about a woman academic that I had been referred to. I ended up on her website. It was filled with the usual lengthy list of citations of articles written by her, but it also held something new to me, a list of several talks she has given over the years. Click on one and see her in action. I did, and spent about an hour finding out a great deal about her work, and at the same time forming a set of impressions about her as a person. It was great. There were at least ten videos, all it seemed about similar in length. I demurred further exploration, at least for the time being. Wow, I thought this is great. And then the notion popped through to wonder how all of this evidence of our existence may be changing us.

You can readily see the marketing value of her website. So much about her there to see, hear, and read. But as i was thinking that on my left shoulder appeared Karl Marx asking, "what are the impacts on people who treat themselves as a product in the market place? Karl, the old bully, would probably scream, She is Turning herself into an object. She is smashing her own humanity. Stinking capitalism! Well strident Karl aside I must admit I get a shiver when I hear someone refer to themselves as a brand. Cute but....

Why the attraction? What leads so many people to spend so much time posting the trivia of their lives? Several possible answers come to mind. Social pressure from real friends can lead one to respond in kind to their postings, and once in the habit, we might then be open to sending our info to friends of friends, Facebook friends, etc. It could also be that many people feel alone and unnoticed. If on line is a shallow form of interaction it may be seen as better than little or none. I suppose I could imagine still other possible explanations. But, though I could help thinking it I won't, so I wonder if this doesn't represent the ages old wish for immortality in a modern less mythical guise. Few of us, even among the believers in the existence of a world beyond this filled with immortals, have ever been able to realistically aspire to such a supreme state, at least not openly. Recall what happened to the pretentious Joan of Arc. Just a few great heroes could rise to the status of having their images preserved in stone and paint. But how many people carried such hopes in their hearts? Now in more secular times we still hope to attain the vanilla version of immortality. Many seek to reach the status of that stepchild of divine ascendancy, to be remembered by "history".

Does Facebook represent the democratization of ancient aspirations? Is the motivation that leads so many to spend so much time posting trivia about their lives a still very spunky desire to overcome death, add meaning to our lives, and live in some form or other for ever? Now believe me I don't mean to raise these possibilities in a bad way. They are understandable motifs and hopes even though Facebook is not likely to fill the nihilist hole in our lives.

Motivations for participating in this massive data accumulation aside there are several ripe questions to be plucked from the self adorned on line self. One is, how do people shape their on line images. Are their types that people try to generate in order to appear lovable, important, humane, whatever? Are their interesting ways posters strive for attention? Does participation in accumulating self data change the way we see ourselves, change the way we see others, change the way we see humans? Do people from different cultures, and subcultures post different things about themselves, or not? Is self esteem changed by posting? What are the limits to self exposure? What if any are our limits for personal trivia? I could go on.


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