The External Identity of the New Media User
When we try to think of a user of new media, what do they look like? Online, every day, we build our own virtual identities, but we can also see the intertwining of our identities with computers reflected back on us from other mediums, as being a computer user takes on new meaning. We embrace these meanings (or at least the positive ones), which in turn help us embrace ourselves as users of new media. This discussion is less relevant to new media than the more common discussion of the way we express ourselves through new media, however it seems relevant from the standpoint that these new meanings are largely encouraged by the old media of television and movies, they reflect the social commentary on the new medium, and provide a “remediation of the self” as well (Lister et. al, ch 3.19) .
Psychology on the “Outer-Focused Aspect” and Myth
The foundation for this discussion returns us to the study of the myth in conjunction with some study on identity.
The highly influential psychologist, Erikson’s, theory on ego identity is discussed by Thomas in his book on child development in which he identities the “outer-focused aspect” of developing ego identity as “the recognition of and identification with the ideals and essential pattern of one’s culture; it includes sharing ‘some kind of essential character with others’ (Erikson, 1968, p. 104)” (Thomas, p. 87). This means that it is natural for us to want to share with the ideals of the masses, and while a television character or archetype might not actually be like everyone else, being liked in a movie or on TV means that what this character embodies is socially acceptable. This means that it is possible for the television to dictate social stereotypes and archetypes associated with different characters, and that generally we will want to relate to the most socially acceptable one.
Even more influential on this discussion, however, is Carl Jung, who is primarily known for his work on dreams but also set a basis for writings on myth and archetype. In general, Carl Jung believed that every person has their own story (Daniels, np). He also said that there were underlying themes apparent in people’s dreams and in myths called archetypes, which were engrained in our psyche and could also be influential from the outside through stories (Stenudd, section 6).
While archetypes are supposed to be timeless and biological, it seems that as time goes on we change the way that these archetypes are acted out. It can be said that stereotypes are created in the way we embody the archetype. While the archetype is supposed to be ancient, the stereotype, or symbology, changes with the society. For example, in the past the hero might be a big, male soldier. Today it might be a female police officer. The way that we chose to embody these archetypes can say a lot about our society, and influence our identities as people.
Applying Archetypes to New Media Users
In the section “Archetypes” of Stenudd’s essay, “The Psychoanalysis of Myth,” He compiles a list of archetypes mentioned by Jung and his colleagues. This section looks at how use of new media has symbolized various archetypes.
In the past it seems that computer users have commonly fallen into the archetypes of the scapegoat, and the fool, resulting in the idea of computer usage being socially less acceptable on a large scale. I say “fool” in the sense that geeks are often portrayed as having very poor social skills. While in truth they fit more in with the archetype of the sage, the fool aspect is what is frequently emphasized. This makes them the scapegoat as well. In 1999, however, when the Matrix was released, it gave hackers and computer users a new identity, as the hero, and provided a depth to the identity relation to Neo. I remember when I was growing up spending late nights in front of the computer and relating to the character, where as before that I am not entirely sure who I would have.
Another example of play with social acceptance and archetypes is when the opposite happens. People change to fit the rest of the symbology of the archetype, to complete the package. When MySpace first came out, it took internet use to a more popular level, forcing people to integrate their current identities into that of a computer user, at which people who would not have traditionally been considered “geeks” began wearing thick black glasses, and other clothing items associated with the stereotype, and embracing “geek chic.”
Today, however, being a user of new media is still applied as a symbol for the scapegoat and the fool archetypes, however mostly in terms of video game users. Players of World of Warcraft are good examples of this, and as a former player I can relate to feeling like it not socially acceptable. One of the best examples of this, and the geek in general today, is on the television show, The Big Bang Theory:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OEkmO3gQQAs. In addition, even the image that the Matrix brought to computer users has been poked fun at in this clip from the film Grandma’s Boy.
These take away from the perception of depth in new media uses.
The real way, however, to view the impact of the symbol of new media use applied to an archetype is in today’s youth. While anything having to do with computers had a geeky tint to it ten years ago, it today has been given a whole different value. The television show iCarly has made it clear that today, the social media user is considered popular, fitting in most likely with the hero archetype, or even the god. This new turn in the direction of computer use is mocked in the the recent episode of Southpark, “You Have 0 Friends,” where facebook is portrayed as a popularity contest:
Donna Haraway’s Cyborg
The cyborg, in Donna Haraway, Cyborg Manifesto, fits into many different archetypes, almost creating a whole new one. Going back to “Archetypes” of Stenudd’s essay, “The Psychoanalysis of Myth,” we could say that the cyborg (which we are increasingly becoming) is almost emphasized primarily by what it is not. In that “the boundary between human and animal is thoroughly breached” (Haraway, 151), all the organic aspects of the character are removed. Haraway seems to see the cyborg as an opportunity to fulfill things which are currently unrealized, and in this way the cyborg is a the god or the tree, what she has put her expectations into. This philosophical, magical being that Haraway has brought into life is far different than any basic stereotypes we see in popular culture, but is still an attempt to add identity and depth to the computer user.
It is interesting how people build pictures of the new media user. In the future, however, as we continue to move away from centralized mediums, the ability for anything to tell us what is social acceptable will fade, and instead we will have circles of validation in every different nook and cranny online.
Ehrlich, B. “‘South Park’ Facebook Episode Shows Us Who Our Real Friends Are.” Mashable. 2009. Accessed from http://mashable.com/2010/04/08/south-park-facebook-episode/ on April 30, 2010.
Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the
Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature(New York; Routledge, 1991), pp.149-181.
Lister, et al. New Media: A Critical Introduction. London and New York: Routledge, 2009. Print.
Stenudd, S. “Psychoanalysis of Myth”. Stenudd.com. 2006. Web. Accessed April 30, 2010 from http://www.stenudd.com/myth/freudjung/
Thomas, R. “Erikson’s Variation on Freud’s Theme.” Comparing Theories of Child Development. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 2005.
Victor, Daniels “Handout on Carl Gustav Jung” nd accessed April 29, 2010 from http://www.sonoma.edu/users/d/daniels/Jungsum.html