I’ve been thinking a lot about themes from my PhD recently and how to introduce them into my current work. My overarching focus was on personal morphogenesis: how people change and how we understand this process sociologically. I’m particularly interested in cases where people seek to change, though having such a goal implies neither the possibility of success or clarity about the intended outcomes. In fact it’s the incohate examples, where someone seeks change driven by a nebulous sense of the possibility of something better or at least different, which fascinate me most of all.
The obvious way to map this issue of personal morphogenesis onto questions of social media is at inquire into how the different phases of the former are constrained or enabled by the latter. There’s a nice example of what this might look in Untangling The Web, by Aleks Krotoski, Pg 14-15. Though it focuses primarily upon the constraints:
I used to be able to completely reinvent myself once every five years. That’s on average how often I’ve moved cities. I started life on the road a week after I was born on a round-the-world trip that was part of my father’s work, and I’ve not been able to settle down since. This gave me a powerful sense of control over how others perceive me. I was able to explore something new about myself in every new place, and leave behind the history that I chose not to share with my new friends. I wasn’t escaping anything by not sharing, nor was I deceiving anyone; some things never come up. The Aleks I was in Louisiana was different from the Aleks I was in Washington DC, who was different from the Aleks I was in Glasgow, who was different from the Aleks I was in Brighton. And these were different from the Aleks I was when I was on holiday in Spain last year. But the web has eroded all of that. My online identity is a consistent, never-relenting backlog of “stuff” that I cannot get rid of, that –crucially –other people can see and that therefore I am accountable for even if I move to another city, country or planet. Because of my persistent online self, I, Aleks Krotoski, can no longer start over. This is a weird vulnerability that I’m not used to: when I’m looking for a job, an apartment to rent or a date, a quick Google search will uncover a trail of information about me and my past that I’ve put up and others have put up about me. It’s as if all my frequent flier miles have disappeared and I can never be anonymous or faceless again.