Readings, and Related Inspirations


Digital Spaces – Digital Identity(s)

When I think about the words “Digital Identity,” my first thought is a question: “Who am I online?” This question brings up several subsequent questions such as, ‘am I the same on every site?’ ‘on every profile?’ ‘do I behave differently on facebook than I do on twitter?’ ‘Do I email differently from my gmail versus my work/school?’ – the resounding answer to these questions is pretty much the same: “I am a virtual chameleon.”

In the article “Queerness, Sexuality, Technology and Writing” created from an online MOO conversation about digital identity in 2004, Keith Dorwick states, “Things that blur boundaries are always dangerous” (37). Perhaps he is correct in this statement, but in context, Dorwick is talking about sexuality. This statement however, brings up ideas of the ways in which identities and identity markers are not necessarily distinct, but often intertwined and inseparable, both in real life and online. Can the ways in which disembodiment allows us to experiment with alternate/alternative identities in virtual spaces be ‘dangerous’?

And what about images? In “Queerness, Sexuality, Technology and Writing,” images remain largely undiscussed until more than the second half of the conversation. Eventually, the speakers begin to discuss images and especially Photoshop around page 35-36. This has changed a lot in the last 10 years as people challenge ideas of identity and identification in online spaces.  Often, it seems, we are asked to share endless selections of ourselves looking into the camera from unnatural angles to hide any possible flaw in facial structure or weight.

And we don’t stop at self-portrait shots of our own faces from above, but resort to displacing self with images of our children, our pets, or even people that we have no connection to, like celebrities, or cartoons. The article “Get Your Kids Off Your Facebook Page” is an interesting look at this idea that many women chose to hide behind the image of a cute child, giving off the message that they are their children. The article discusses several reasons that many women might make the choice to use their children as their profile picture, but it does not account for the multi-identity issue many of us suffer from in the online spaces. Increasingly, I hear adults in my age bracket [25-35] admit that they are only on facebook because everyone is, and that’s the only way they ever find out what is happening. Without disclosing personal stories, I will admit that without facebook, I would have missed out on HUGE events in the lives of people I care about.

Clearly, our online identities are linked to the spaces we chose to use online, and so it is important not only to evaluate how we express ourselves in the digital universe, but how we chose to express/represent ourselves in specific spaces within the digital sphere.



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Last Night I Thought Of Benjamin

Last night I heard a sound I immediately mistook for fireworks outside my boyfriend’s house. My first thought was that a bunch of teenagers (stereotype, I know) had set off a lot of fireworks in the street in front of the house. This is not unreasonable because kids cross the nature preserve on their way home from school every day, and you know they’re out there making out, or smoking… or setting of fireworks all the time. Expect I knew it wasn’t fireworks when the sound was followed by a loud POP! and the lights went out.

We ran to the door and looked out. It was dark out there, but it wouldn’t be for long. Following the pop was a mighty set of crackling, and then a lot of sparks up in the tree to the right of the house.

A branch from the tree ( a large branch) had snapped at its base and crashed down on the electrical wires. It was pretty scary at first. Everyone was out in the street looking. I don’t know if the lady across the street has super powers or what, but she had already called 911 and was done by the time my bf was halfway done with them on my phone, the only one we could find in the dark. The rest of the neighbors were standing around asking each other if we should all call. I know who’s going to survive the apocalypse on this street. And I know I want that lady across the street on my zombie apocalypse team.

Fortunately for us, we had just had a hot pizza delivered so we could work through the night without having to make food (not that pizza is actually food, but hey, it’s finals). Since we couldn’t work without power, and we figured walking under a tree on fire was probably a bad idea, we sat on the steps, ate pizza and watched.

The tree didn’t catch like I expected it to. “Wow,” I remarked to my companion, “If this was AZ, that tree would be engulfed in flames and we’d have to cross under those wires.”

“I know,” he replied. “Fortunately, it’s wet here and that tree has to burn for a while before it really goes up.”

That made me feel better, until more of the power lines snapped, hitting the cars in front of us. Had someone been crossing under them, they probably would have become quite unalive.

And then something funny occurred to me and I said to my companion, “you know, if we were about 10 years younger, we would be posting this on Youtube.”

He pointed upstairs to the neighbor, who was already posting something somewhere.

Since I had thought of it too, I figured I would get out the camera and join the fun. The fire department had arrived and forced us back inside and were gingerly approaching the danger. Here’s what I got:

Now… the interesting part about these photos, as they pertain to our course… is that they were much more exciting to take than they likely are for you to look at. As Benjamin might say, they have an aura because I took them, and I was there, and you all know me. But they are also digital, and so are now instantly on the internet, available for anyone to see at any time, without context. You can’t see what’s behind me, or above me. And I’ve cropped out the VERY bright light provided by the fire truck. How do you know there isn’t an elephant over there. We certainly didn’t know our neighbor was over there waiting for the power to get shut off from the wires so he could cross and get home.

I wonder all sorts of things about these visuals as they pertain to our class and what our theorists might say.

Would McLuhan have made some statement about the camera being digital, or the fact that I’m posting these on a blog? There is also a different picture I took with my phone that I texted to facebook.

What might Geimer have said about the water spots on the window that my camera has focused on without my knowledge? What might Crary said of you as the observer? Or Selfe say about the interface you are observing my photo arrangement on?

I guess I’ll never think of visuals the same way again.


Semiotics and the “Bogus Religiosity” of Art

It is difficult to decide where to approach our two readings for the week. And though I’ve thought a lot about starting with advertisements, or with ‘religious’ ideology given to ‘art’, I keep coming back to the notion of authenticity we began speaking about in class last week.

Key Terms under Semiotics:

Denoted = that which represents

Connoted = meanings that are represented

Anchorage = keeps us linked to the word in an image saturated culture -> tags, labels, etc.

Relay = relaying the message as in a comic strip bubble

Key Terms under Berger:

Bogus Religiosity = the sense we get when in the presence of a piece of art our culture tells us is ‘great’.


All of these concepts can relate back to the idea of authenticity that we began discussing with Benjamin and Flusser. In Benjamin’s piece, we are told that with the invention of mechanical reproduction, art is taken out of its original space and time and can be placed anywhere. We see this repeated in the first chapters of Berger’s book Ways of Seeing: “The uniqueness of every painting was once part of the uniqueness of the place where it resided” (19). This ‘uniqueness’ gives us the ‘authenticity’, the ‘religiosity’ of the work of art. And because we have this cultural notion of authenticity, we are then able to be led into Berger’s final chapter about advertisements, which Barthes also spends a lot of time talking about, but in a much different context.

According to Barthes, in his article “Rhetoric of the Image,” “the image is re-presentation, which is to say ultimately resurrection, and, as we know, the intelligible is reputed antipathetic to lived experience” (269). Barthes then leads us through the ways that messages are conveyed to us: denotational and connotational, which are both based in the linguistic. Again, according to Barthes, the images we see are only meaningful in relation to their linguistic “symbolic messages”. This ides, however, was not sitting right with me. So I did some outside reading and I came across an interpretation of Barthess ideas of the linguistic message presented by Gunter Kress and Theo van Leeuwen in 1996: “Barthes’ account misses an important point: the visual component of a text is an independently organized and structured message, connected with the verbal text, but in no way dependent on it – and similarly the other way around” (18). This sounded closer to what I understand about images, so I had a friend send me a meme – something I don’t go looking for myself, but know all the kids love.











Here, you can see that the very familiar image has been altered by the text attached to it. It has a new time (now), a new space (on a screen near you), and a totally new meaning that alters the ‘authenticity’ of the piece into something new, yet arguably authentic in a new way.

But then I begin to re-question: who is more correct? Barthes, or Kress and van Leeuwen? Is the above meme independent of the text, or anchored in the text? Does it simultaneously denote and connote a message? If the purpose of the internet meme is to be humorous, how does this fit into the reproduction of the Mona Lisa as Benjamin might argue it? What does linguistic anchorage do for the nude, if we turn her into a meme? The following is apparently a very popular meme about Manet. I found a lot of them of different Manet paintings, nudes and otherwise:

Manet Meme

The idea behind the meme, anchored in this linguistic idea, makes us laugh because we know, not just from reading Berger, that the display of ‘high art’ gives the person who chooses that piece of art to display a higher sense of cultural capital – even if it just a print. This then, reinforces the argument that publicity (or what we would call an advertisement) is often successfully reminiscent of recognized pieces of art, which these memes also successfully prey upon.

I’ll leave it there in the interest of time – but I’m very excited to see what all of you are doing with this information, especially about the theory of the gaze, which Berger never labels as such.