Matthew Berk: Digital Self-Fashioning


Matthew Berk is a Jupiter Research analyst. he's talking about what he calls digital self-fashioning. He suggests some various approaches to this task:

  • Anthropomorphic approaches - these are metaphors for reconstituting the body in a virtual world.
  • Topological constructions - this treats the network as a virtual place with conversational interaction.

The political backdrop is about

  • Freedom of the self - boundary transcendence
  • Alienation of the self - a loss of presence

Self fashioning is how people constitute themselves on the net through collections of content. It is done through technologies of the self, which usually take the form of documents or writing. People explicitly act to fashion their identities and at the same time they are fashioned by their context.

Online people constitute themselves as assemblies of documents and other data designed for people to read and establish some relationship. The more structure in and between this content, the greater is its action potential. This structure and meta-data gives the content meaning. Content, like identity, is always plural, differential. These plural collections of content relate to different views of the identity.

Berk defines community as dynamically connected collections of content. Some examples include: Amazon user reviews, Classmates.com, eBay seller ratings, yahoo! groups, AOL profiles, online personals, and, of course, blogs.

Blogs represent a new "technology of the self." They are a pure expression of content management application that have few attached metaphors and are mark-up independent. Blogs represent a tool for self fashioning. The community is a network of interlinked content. Berk points out that other uses of the Internet have lots of metaphors (browsing, navigation, etc.) but blogs do not.