Digital Networking: Socio-Cultural Responsibility

This week’s reading, Off the Network, by Ulises Ali Mejias, goes into an in-depth analysis of our increasingly networked society and it’s implications for the future of our cultural capital as well as the development of new cultural and social identities. For our clearer understanding, Mejias defines digital networks as “a composite of human and technological actors (the nodes) linked together by social and physical ties (the links) that allow for the transfer of information among some or all of these actors” (xii). Mejia’s places great importance on the increasing indistinctness between the digital and adigital, the mediated and the unmediated realms of “reality”. Mejias maintains that the increasing degree of convergence between the digital and analog networks that compose most of our cultural and social capital/identity is potentially capable of effecting change on a large scale, both consciously and unconsciously. This revelation obviously poses serious implications for the continued development of society as head into an increasingly digitized age.

I agree with Mejia in several regards, particularly with his belief that being incorporated into myriad digital networks affects an individual social and cultural behaviors. The interrelatedness of all the networks in our lives, both analog and digital, have an undeniable effect on how a person develops and it is futile to try separate the two. It appears the convergence of virtual and “real” social interactions is such that there is no longer any point in making a distinction between the real self and the digital self as existing in separate social networks. As Mejia elaborates, “Rather, to talk about the networked subject is to talk about a fragmented self, some of whose multiple identities are wired or connected to the network and some that are not” (59). In trying to understand our cultural and societal progression in an increasing digital world, one cannot overlook the overlap shared between our mediated and unmediated selves– we who are simultaneously plugged and unplugged into digital networks.

 Perhaps it is this phenomenon that has caused Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites’ meteoric rise to prominence within our culture. Mejia attributes people’s affinity for social networking sites as a result of the ” ubiquitousness of the digital network, [claming] it is possible for our networked existence to encompass all the dimensions of our social lives (57). One can speculate that the low-intensity and convenient social interactions afforded by social networking sites can be preferable to individuals who want to have large amount of social interaction without expending much effort. However, people still understand that both mediated and unmediated social exchanges are equally important and useful. “Even digital natives (those generations exposed to digital network technologies from birth) will admit that online experience are indeed no substitute for the “real” thing; however, the point–they will add– is not to replace the “real” thing, but to supplement or augment it” (57).

Damn. Everybody loves Facebook.

Mejia’s discussion reminds me of a similar discussion we had in Introduction to New Media regarding the digital equivalent of the ‘Looking Glass Self’. Essentially, The Looking Glass Self theory is a modern concept, primarily discussed within the field of social psychology. The Looking Glass Self refers to the theory that people construct their identity based on how they believe others perceive them to be. It is only through another’s perception can an individual gain identity. Social Network Profiles are essentially the digital versions of the Looking Glass Self theory. Aside from ones socio-economic and aesthetic influences, it is only through validation or rejection from fellow network members that we can get a sense of how an individual is received by his peers. If we understand that we are simultaneously defined by our mediated and unmediated selves (through our degree of involvement with digital networks) yet are also influenced by our interpretation of how other people percieve

Mejia’s Off the Network offers insight into the implications of a society that is increasingly digitally-networked yet simultaneously atomized. There is no denying the influence an increasingly digitized and networked culture, nor its influence on said culture’s progression over time. We must actively preside over our digital networking, otherwise we risk our cultural and social capital/identities becoming commodified or insipid.

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