Body image issues are a constant struggle for me and my sister, but interestingly, when she recently purchased a gaming system, we both designed our avatars to be on the “Rubansesque” end of the scale and resemble our physical selves as much as a limited range of graphics on a funny cartoon “me” could resemble either of us. Writing my digital body into being (Boyd, 2007, p. 2, p. 9), I find myself reflecting on similar issues. Even with all of my angst over “body image” in a resilient, persistent digital environment, I want my digital body to reflect the physical (or more importantly, the intellectual and spiritual) me. In other words, I am creating a body both in the sense of a digital manifestation of myself and in the sense of a portfolio of work exemplary of who I am.
In many ways this will occur naturally. My voice and aesthetic will come through in my writing and choice of digital imagery. Tiny clues of me will seep in from the edges of my personality and pervade my presence. My choices of network neighborhoods and social networks will ultimately say something as well. I’m not inclined to create an alternate personality, nor am I adept at hiding who I am, so many facets of shaping my digital body become mute points. In that respect, much the same as in the physical realm, my body will be created naturally by my “lifestyle choices”.
However, in the other sense, I would like to direct the creation and molding of my digital body. To that end, determining my essence and what content will most effectively symbolize and affirm who I am is still something of a mystery. Consequently, even as I tremble at the thought, I take the words of Traviesa to heart, stating in Boyd’s work: “You need mistakes to know where you are going.” (2007, p. 19)
Reflecting on what hinders the development of this body:
• I realize I have not properly considered my “imagined audience” (Boyd, 2007, p. 14). I have not actively defined my public (real or imagined) or my role in the drama of social networking. I had not even defined the context as a drama to be written, or more to my taste, a canvas to be covered. Like some of the teens torn between the expectation placed by peers and parents, I find myself distracted by the implications of developing appropriate content among various potential audiences.
• This in turn makes me realize that my frame of reference hasn’t fully caught up with the new technology. I have difficulty grappling with participatory culture and its implications. For instance, the creative process is for me very private and fraught with dichotomy. My best paintings are full extensions of my emotion and my personal symbol systems. I don’t like to have people watch my creative process, and I am often embarrassed about having the end results viewed publically. I create the message; it is a vital communication; but, in disparity, I don’t necessarily want to broadcast it for others to hear. By contrast participatory culture is a world of creating, broadcasting, and hearing almost simultaneously. I am ultimately paralyzed by my proximity to the audience.
• In the final analysis I realize that I have never had the abandon to just go out and make mistakes for the sake of learning. Risk taking is not me, so I need a more defined plan than some who have the drive to just go out and participate.
I also affirm the accuracy of Byrne’s conclusion that the community will assist in shaping my body through feedback, critique, and even silence (2008).
Reflecting on what aids in the development of this body:
• Even as an introvert and a risk avert, I realize the potential of social networking to enrich certain relationships. I realize the power of affinity spaces and sharing, analyzing, and making sense of the details of life. The more I read about and interact with social network environments the more interesting and alive they become.
• I like to write and believe it is one of my strengths, so the concept of writing myself into being (Boyd, 2007) is uplifting. For instance, I posted an original poem on my Facebook page once, and enjoyed the feedback I received for those few simple, sentimental lines. Feedback from the community is a benefit of being social.
• I can continue to hone and redefine who I am and where I want to go over time. Even if I err, there is room for growth and adjustment. There will be mentors along the way and I will be able to model the behaviors I find most appealing as I develop.
My mother is currently more active on face book than I am. My father is very active in a CGI network, posting images and enjoying the feedback of “fans” from all over the world – literally. I think about the two of them - who are not “the norm” in participatory culture, being in their 50’s and 60’s and not their 10’s and 20’s, and I realize that as long as I am willing to learn new things along the way at any age, then there will have a body and soul worth knowing in the physical world and the digital world. Coming of age and working on identity doesn’t end. We can go on asking “what are you” (Byrne, 2008, p. 18) for a lifetime and never run out of possible answers or possible ways to express the responses.
Boyd, Dana, (2007) “Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life." The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Learning -Youth, Identity, and Digital Media. (ed. David Buckingham). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press
Byrne, Dara N. (2008) “The Future of (the) ’Race’: Identity, Discourse, and the Rise of Computer-mediated Public Spheres." Learning Race and Ethnicity: Youth and Digital Media. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning. (ed. Anna Everett). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Pages 15–38.