Our new digital selves and their relational augmentation

One of the value phrases I use in the new visioning video just produced, is “alone we are a fragment, together we are whole”.

This could easily be misunderstood as an appeal to new agey wholism or a return to some form of collectivism. But my view of the new relational or p2p self is just the opposite. As I explained elsewhere, I see this as a transcendence of both our individual and collective nature, which are no longer seen as opposed, but as convergent, resulting in a new form of relationality, which I have called cooperative individualism.

But I do still believe that alone we are incomplete, and that our wholeness is achieved through such a relational work, whereby our identity and social recognition are constructed through our engagement in common projects. Individual identity becomes the ever-shifting thread of our engagements. Through our relations, we enrich our immanent presence in the world, while it is the object of our cooperation, which creates the transcendence, the reaching beyond ourselves through common value creation.

I still endorse what I wrote in this blog on the Great Cosmic Mash-Up:

Postmodernism was all about deconstructing oppressive mental structures that we inherited from modernity. Amongst other things the Cartesian subject/object split and the alienating effects of Kantian’s impossibility of knowing true reality; it was a necessary destructive passage, a cleaning out process, but it didn’t, as its names “post”- indicate, construct anything. So in my view, if modernity was about constructing the individual (along subject/object divisions), and postmodernity about deconstructing this, then this new era, which I’ld like to call the era of participation, is about constructing relationality or participation. We are not going back to the premodern wholistic era and feelings, but just as modernity was about rigorously individualising everything, eventually reaching the current dead-end of hyper-individualism, we are now just as rigorously ‘relationising’ everything. If in premodernity we thought, we are parts of a whole that is one and above us, and in modernity we thought we are separate and unified individuals, a world onto ourselves, and in postmodernity saw ourselves fragmenting, and pretty much lamented this, then this is the mash-up era. We now know that all this fragments can be reconstructed with the zillions of fragment of the others, into zillions of commonalities, into temporary wholes that are so many new creative projects, but all united in a ever-moving Commons that is open to all of us..

So the fragmentation of postmodernity is a given for us now, but we are no longer lamenting, we are discovering the technologies (infrastructural, collaborative-software-ish, political, but above all the mental and epistemological) that allow us to use this fragmentation to create the Great Cosmic Mash-Up. That is the historical task of the emerging Peer to Peer Era.

I recently discovered the work of anthropologist Grant McCracken, who talks about our cloudiness (other call it fuzzyness):

you are a cloud. You are an aggregation of interests, connections, and contacts, tagged in several ways, linked in all directions, changing in real time. I mean your mental world. It’s all hints and hunches, guesses and glimpses, shifting perspectives, tumbling assumptions. You take on clarity for clients. Then you’re all “let’s get on with it” pragmatism. But normally, and for most purposes, you’re as cloudy as can be.

He adds:

“”what difference does it make to the self and the group that they are mediated by electronic connections (email, internet, SMS, IM, MMS, blogs, aggregators, shared search engines, p2p file sharing, online game play, etc.)

My guess is that new selves and groups are richly heterogeneous, loosely and variously boundaried, capable of expansion, contraction and sudden reorganization, not very well governed, but still quite navigable and quite mobile, and, in still other respects, dynamic in content, form and operation.

I think cloudiness was an emerging property of selves and groups in the late 20th century, but that cloudiness was intensified by the new electronic technologies of the last 10 years. So the third anthropological question is now, “Where does cloudiness come from and how does it intensify?” Or to put this in a more pressing form: how’d ja get so cloudy?

There is a double cloudiness. In one, let’s call it, social cloudiness, more contacts and interests open up, and more contacts and interests are made possible. And this in turn sets in train the other cloudiness, let’s call it a conceptual cloudiness, in so far as expanding social network expose us to things like the Yi Tan contemplation of social search and the recognition that there are lots of new things the proper intellectual reckoning of which will likely take the substantial relocation and renovation of our existing conceptual categories.

Summing up. The self and the group, when electronically mediated, reaches out in all directions, embracing more topics and contacts that it might reach out and embrace still more topics and contacts. Selfhood is expanding outwards, and this be much more exciting and fun, if we did not finding ourselves expanding into a certain conceptual, categorical cloudiness and the task of thinking down to test our assumptions and up to query our purposes.”

Grant has many other interesting things to say, for example about the dynamics in Twitter and Facebook, and how, through their use of exhaust data, create new possibilities for ambient intimacy and phatic communication.

Exhaust data “are data that pass between friends on Facebook and Twitter…as when someone tells me they’re doing their nails, or I tell them I’m entertaining my cat.

Who on earth cares? What kind of communication is this? Can it be that we are using the internet to issue trivial facts about ourselves? Facts? The “fact” that I am entertaining the cat is so staggeringly unimportant it fails to interest even the cat.

But there is another, anthropological, point of view. Exhaust data is, I think, a clear case of “Phatic Communication.” This is communication with little hard, informational content, but lots of emotional and social content. Phatic communications doesn’t get much said, but it has social effects so powerful, it gets lots done.”

Anyway, this is what the changes are about, augmenting the individual through relationality, with the object of creating common value ‘collectively’, through self-aggregation. The whole push of the p2p revolution is to create the infrastructure for this, designing for inclusion, and for convergence of the indiviual and collective interest, through value-conscious design.

1 Comment Our new digital selves and their relational augmentation

  1. Pingback: Love, Truth, Beauty, Pluralistic Spirituality · Me to the Power of Us

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