7 - Mask and Identity: The Hermeneutics of Self-Construction in the Information Age  pp. 191-214


By Dorian Wiszniewski and Richard Coyne

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The issue of identity features prominently in discourses about information technology (IT). One conspicuous narrative presented in IT commentary is that the use of the Internet radically changes our perception of who and what we are. Apparently, in anonymous online chat groups you can play charades, wear a mask, and pretend to be of a different age, gender, or appearance (Turkle, 1995; Murray, 1999). It seems that we can accomplish this transformation of identity with great fluidity now. As the Internet and its successors become more pervasive and the technologies become more sophisticated and convincing, then presumably the issue of identity itself comes under review, as do related concepts: that against which we assert our identity (community) and the means by which one's identity is promoted and transformed (education).

We survey the debt owed by contemporary IT narratives and practices to certain intellectual positions as they pertain to identity. This analysis inevitably involves a consideration of change, community, and education. Identity implies continuity in a sense of the self, a constancy behind the ever-changing mask of appearances. In the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, which dominate in the western tradition, the changing nature of the sensible realm is contrasted with the invariance of the realm of the forms, the place of identity. Whereas we and other things change, through the forces of generation, destruction, locomotion, growth, and diminution (our hair turns grey and disappears, we gather wrinkles, stoop a little, and change our occupation), that which remains constant is our identity – the immutable part of our human being that participates in the realm of the forms.

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