Authenticity & ‘Real’ Bodies

Along with several RCA and CIID classmates and peers I joined an interested audience for a symposium at the ICA in London. The half-day symposium “examines the integration of the digital in the construction of the ‘self’, asking how this has complicated our experience of material reality”.

Many topics were covered during the talks, many of which I have some opinions about and which are personal interests that I try to explore in my own work. Obvious current buzzwords include #identity #digital #surveillance #personas #avatars #perception #truth. Newer keywords for me — which I’ve yet to explore and build in to works — were #masking #religion #oppression #feminism #totalitarianism.

Speakers included: Ben Dalton, Onkar Kular, Leslie Kulesh, Dr Shehnaz Suterwalla and Noam Toran.

Some interesting research and case studies caught my interest during the talks. Most notably the history and rituals around Venetian masks.

On #Feminism

This comes up a lot. And yes while I am fully aware that I’m a white male who’s lived most of my life in the United Kingdom and therefore only have a limited perception of other peoples experiences in the world. I still converse with many, many people who vary in age, race, sex, religions and ideals. And I cannot fully see the dangers or issues in many arguments that are raised around feminism and the highlighting of ‘key’ issues. Before I start a flame-war let me provide an example. “70% of Google employees are male vs 30% who are female!” My response being “and…”? For me that statistic tells me that 70% of the people interested in working for Google are male. If they advertise a role and receive 1000 applications, 700 of those could be male while only 300 of those are female. Statistically there is more chance of them hiring a male than female for the role. Obviously depending on the job requirements and applications suitability. If the most suitable people are male and Google hire’s them, what does that sa about Google? For me it’s just statistics. I imagine some roles have more female applicants and some more male. If less females are apply for jobs it’s not the fault of Google. They are just trying to run a business. Please don’t think I’m pro-Google either, I’m just using this as an example because it was quoted at the talk.

There are many, many reasons for these statistics. And I feel it’s often unfair and bias for people to stand up and say it’s unfair. Based on my experiences and the women that I know, if they wanted to work for Google they would apply, and some would probably succeed. However I don’t know many female friends who ‘would’ apply in the first place, because the idea of working for a global corporation and being one cog in a giant machine, balancing their professional and social life with work politics isn’t’ so appealing. So perhaps what the statistic really shows is that 70% of all females have higher goals and aspirations for themselves, vs only 30% of men.

Also while I’m on the subject the idea of alienation comes up a lot. Women wanted to be included and considered equal to men. I am mostly aware of this within the design, programming and technical industries because that my area of focus. Unfortunately I find the approaches many take as counter-productive. If you want to be considered equal to another party, why would you label yourself as different and make such a spectacle of the fact? While I acknowledge the efforts and work that organisations like Girls Who Code do, the title alone is enough to tell me ‘girls doing something special that they are capable or supposed to do normally. Internally fostering an idea of collective-identity, like-minded people who support each other — fantastic until you realise that you need to deal with a world were 70% of your colleagues are male. It’s not a problem, girls and guys are capable of doing anything they want if they put their minds to it. But I find the motivations sometimes questionable. Are you doing this because you enjoy it or to prove a point that you can do it? I might suggest that a more inclusive solution would be to teach coding to a younger generation — during primary and secondary education for example — with mixed classes. At this point the gender divide is hopefully less evident and individuals can be exposed to new ideas and opportunities before other experiences start to shape their views of the world and their role and possibilities within it.

On #identity and #avatars

I find it hard to join debates and discussions around ‘how authentic my digital-self and real-self are’. After some reflection I realised that this has no impact on my day-to-day life at all. I wake up, do many things, meet friends, eat, enjoy life, work hard and hopefully get some sleep. If I do decide to upload something to the internet it is most often to archive a link, project, idea or photograph for my own personal use.

If other people see this and build up a representation of myself based on my digital-self … great. Good for them. But their interpretation of me in no way influences my activities of decisions. Perhaps my ‘digital-self’ is much more important to others, than to me!

The question was raised “when does authenticity in my digital activities and profile really matter?” Perhaps with more research and example that answer this question I can build up more critical views around this topic. But right now I don’t care. I’m very aware that my Facebook profile most probably describes “a 30 year old male, who’s living in london and studied in Denmark last year, and doesn’t really use Facebook much”. In which case, that’s a pretty authentic representation of me — but do I really care?

On #digital

I hate this term. We still seem to refer to actions and information that appears on the internet and through social media channels as “the digital” and this is in contrast to “the real” or “the physical” world.

If in the same breath we argue that mobile phones, Google glasses, embedded and wearable technology and the “internet-of-things” have been bridging the gap between digital and physical for such a long time. Then surely we are contradicting our first argument.

The digital and the physical are all part of the same thing. It’s information about actions that can be shared between individuals through a plethora of channels that include digital, physical, plastic, glass, soft, hard, liquid, light and metal, sound, voice, speech and written language.

We need to stop trying to thing of them as two completely separate spaces or ‘worlds’. Especially if we state that in a post-internet world the behaviours of people in the utopian vision of the internet have turned out to be pretty much identical to the behaviours of people in the real world.

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