We’ve extended the 50% off deal until 7 October! You can buy Untangling the Web for half price at the Guardian bookshop if you checkout using the code UTW07FG.
our possessions become extensions of the self. We use them to signal to ourselves, and others, who we want to be and where we want to belong. And long after we’re gone, they become our legacy. Some might even say our essence lives on in what once we made or owned.
An excellent article. There are some really fascinating insights about stuff and things and our sense of security in ourselves, individualism and collectivism and the evolution of attachment and meaning at different points in our lives.
I’m going to take it one step further (if I may): this psychological relationship with “stuff and things” is also applicable to virtual assets: identity markers as profiles, home pages etc. I wonder, though, how this will evolve throughout the lifespan, as Christian describes in his piece about our relationship with physical objects as we age.
I write about the relationship between identity and virtual object in Untangling the Web: What the Internet is Doing to You in two chapters. First, ‘A Nation of Narcissists’ (or, “the one about identity”):
This is something we all do when we go online. Even if you’ve never ventured into an online game or been a signed-up member of a web community, you’ve probably developed a profile for a social network, written a blog, commented on an article or contributed to the ongoing flood of updates on Twitter. You may have done more than one of these. Congratulations: you have created a virtual “you”.
I also write about it in ‘Home is Where the Hub Is’ (or, “the one about our relationship with our intimate surroundings):
Over the last 20 years, we have attuned ourselves to digital design. The architects of our physical worlds have always thought about how we navigate and consume their spaces, but now the designers of the cyber-spaces that we traipse and surf through are starting to integrate similar ideas into websites. We call bits of the web “home” – literally, home pages that we decorate like the walls of a teenager’s bedroom, personalising them with displays of who we are. Even on ready-made sites like Facebook, we still surround ourselves with the things that are meaningful to us by personalising our profiles. In two decades of web research, countless studies have described the ways people build online identities using text and multimedia in the same way that DIY junkies use paintbrushes and plasterboard. And when virtual places are infiltrated by hackers or ex-partners, they are considered spoiled and compromised and lose their psychological value. The sanctum is invaded, and, as in the offline world, people move on, or they re-build a relationship with that place.
Online things are as much identifiers of ourselves as the stuff we see in our surroundings, and this article brings that home even more. Christian says,
Our relationship with our stuff is in the midst of great change. Dusty music and literary collections are being rehoused in the digital cloud. Where once we expressed our identity through fashion preferences and props, today we can cultivate an online identity with a carefully constructed homepage. We no longer have to purchase an item to associate ourselves with it, we can simply tell the world via Twitter or Facebook about our preferences. The self has become extended, almost literally, into technology, with Google acting like a memory prosthetic. In short, our relationship with our things, possessions and brands remains as important as ever, it’s just the nature of the relationship is changing.
A fantastic read!
Untangling the Web covers the spectrum of stuff we need to think about…to topics to which we don’t pay enough attention
Prof John Naughton, who’s most recent book about the Web is worth a read, reviewed Untangling the Web: What the Internet is Doing to You in this weekend’s Observer:
Untangling the Web, is a collection of 17 thoughtful essays on the impact of comprehensive networking on our lives. These essays cover the spectrum of stuff we need to think about – from the obvious ones (such as privacy, identity, the concept of online “friendship” and the psychological and social impact of the net) to topics to which we don’t pay enough attention (such as the ways in which online anonymity empowers those who are physically disabled or disfigured, and what medics sneeringly call “cyberchondria" – the ways in which the net can increase health anxieties)
The Serendipity Engine also gets a mention.
Your encouragement and readership throughout the four year research and writing process of Untangling the Web: What the Internet Is Doing to You, from when it was a twinkle in The Observer and The Guardian's eyes all the way to dead tree publication, is seriously appreciated.
I want to celebrate that.
So come back Monday for my gift to you.
Most governments have focused on technical solutions, believing
that removing or blocking radicalising material on the internet will
solve the problem. Yet, this report shows that any strategy that relies
on reducing the availability of content alone is bound to be crude,
expensive and counterproductive. Radicalisation is largely a real-world
phenomenon that cannot be dealt with simply by ‘pulling the plug’.
Stevens, T. and Neumann, P.R. (2009). Countering Online Radicalisation: A Strategy for Action. The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence, Kings College: London.
(full text pdf)
I spoke with the report’s author Tim Stevens for The Guardian’s Tech Weekly about how things have and have not changed since this report was written in 2009. Results up shortly.