Virtual Postmodern Consumer Suicide!
I read a blog post by Thilde Vesterby recently (here's a similar one, same author, but in English), about Seppukoo - essentially a service through which you can commit virtual suicide, named after the Japanese samurais who would fall on their swords, dying in honour, rather than by the hands of their enemies. No swords involved here though, instead, it provides you with the means to be free, once and for all (or at least until you choose to reactivate it), of your Facebook profile.
The Seppukoo site itself says; "The distinctions between the real and the virtual are becoming more and more confused. Which is virtual? And where's the real? Beyond all those questions only a fact remains: that our privacy, our profiles, our identities, our relationships, they are all - fake and/or real - entirely exploited for a sole purpose: to be sold as a product." And Thilde, in her Danish post, asks (translated); "Are the virtual identities we create online really us, or are they simply made-up characters we create in order to sell ourselves, like products or brands?"
It's a good question. Or good questions.
The whole concept is interesting. Are we able to delete one of our virtual identities - because let's face it; we've got more than one - and is it (or are they) really fake?
As postmodern peeps, where we live in a world where choices abound. We have become fragmented; we never have to commit to one particular lifestyle, or identity, and shifting between selves is normal; in fact it's almost expected. Take the suit who ditches their corporate lifestlye on Friday afternoon, and races off to go rock climbing/mountain biking/motocross racing/whatever. Who among us hasn't got another side to them?
There are basically two views of postmodernism and fragmentation, and they sit at opposite ends of the scale. One essentially sees fragmentation as something positive, liberatory, allowing us to escape from the dullness of a single self. We can pick and chose which person we want to be, allowing us to fit in to different situations, with different groups. The other sees it as negative - a society which is alienated and fragmented, where we have undergone 'personal saturation'. We have been presented with so many options, told so many things, that we don't know what self is best, or most meaningful, and even who we are has become lost in the myriad of choices. 'Luckily', with the plethora of choice we have as consumers, we are able to flit from being one person to another in hours, or even footsteps.
I view it all as being positive. We no longer have to be restricted to one 'class' - and I mean that loosely, not in the social hierarchy sense, although, it could also mean that. We can be a multitude of 'types' if we should want to be, experimenting with, and enjoying each self in appropriate situations or environments, and one of these environments is social media.
I see social media as representing a zenith in postmodernism. While modernity was about creating, or discovering, a single identity and the act of projecting solely that, we have now moved in to an era where we seek multiple identites (or ways to represent our identities), and social media could not be better suited. It allows our fragmented self to actually represent each self on different platforms, if we should choose to do so. We can be, for example, 'Twitter Lara', 'Facebook Lara', 'LinkedIn Lara', 'Flickr Lara', 'PointlessPoints Lara' - you get the idea. In theory, I could be a different person on each of these sites. Some, for example Facebook, even provides lists through which we can appear to be different people to different groups, allowing one site to represent multiple selves. For example on Facebook, there's 'work Lara', 'out of work Lara', and the lists can go on and on. The virtual identities we create are no more real or fake than our physical selves. I can just as easily be 'work Lara' at work IRL, or 'at home Lara', or 'at the gym Lara' etc, etc. Each of these environments presents new arenas through we we can play with our identity.
As social media is the zenith of the postmodern consumer, perhaps Seppukoo represents some kind of zenith for social media. Postmodernism argues that whatever we consume, by doing so, we are also producing; we are caught up in a constant cycle of (re)production. Perhaps Seppukoo is the ultimate act of production and consumption; as we 'destroy' our online self, we produce a statement, and furthemore join a group, thereby representing a whole new self. It's virtual postmodern consumer suicide.
Of course, one might take up the arguement of whether social media is modernist or postmodernist here, as although we are able to create multiple selves, are we still not bounded by the possibilities each services allows us? While we belive ourselves to be highly individual by commiting suicide with one of our virtual identities, we are instantly creating a new identity through this action, an action which has been provided ultimately by the very network we are trying to detach from. Try as you might to make a statement as a fragmented, individualist, postmodern consumer, we are ultimately trapped by the ongoing circle of consumption and production built within the limits of, ironically, a modernistic service.
So to Thilde's question of; "Are the virtual identities we create online really us, or are they simply made-up characters we create in order to sell ourselves, like products or brands?" my answer would have to be that yes, they are actually us. Or at least, a part of us - or rather - 'one' of us.
Yet while the idea behind Seppukoo is to prove that we are in fact more than our virtual identities, and that we must free ourselves from our 'digital bodies', what it fails to point out is that doing so, we are simply making a shift in our virtual identity. I don't think I would have a problem in deleting my profile. I don't see it as something I need to be 'freed' from. I know that I am more than my virtual identity, but am not sure that I can honestly say which is more 'real' - they're all me, just different.