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Mirrors and Masks – performing identity on the web

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  1. Harris 10:56, Mar 21st, 10

    Thought I’d try video right away, just to see how it goes…

  2. nadine 07:29, Mar 22nd, 10

    Beautiful, fantastic job Harris!!! Can’t wait to follow your travelogue. Will you explore identity and the Internet in Pakistan? It is such a wide question- cultural, social, sexual, religious and political identity- you should probably narrow it down to one (although they are all related). Maybe you could also focus your research on a specific age group or gender, and than compare your results. As you mention, it will be interesting to see when and how the Internet is perceived as a form of emancipation (like El Asira), or respectively as a threat. I am also very intrigued by acts of symbolic suicide on the Internet- a little bit related to my question of death in the realm of social networks. Any ideas for that?

  3. Alexandra 14:26, Mar 22nd, 10

    This is so cool! How did you make this video? Through some sort of editing tool? I have to admit I don’t know much about this stuff… yet!

  4. Leslie 15:58, Mar 22nd, 10

    Cool video, Harris! There’s quite a lot to talk about concerning identity online. I feel like through social networks, people try to make an “ideal” identity of their selves- how they want others to see themselves. I remember one time a friend jokingly saying something like, “My Facebook page is so much cooler than I actually am!”

    I liked your comment about “what do people do when their identity is challenged?” This could be interesting to explore, especially with ChatRoulette. I’m sure there can be some interesting conversations on there between people challenging who the person on the other side of the video is, pending they let you stay connected long enough.

  5. Harris 19:15, Mar 22nd, 10

    Nadine, you’re right, this needs more specificity. Symbolic suicide on the Internet – you mean the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine (now taken down) that would delete everything from your facebook? Also related is how a Florida teen broadcast his suicide live on his webcam in 2008 (suicide as performance?)

    Alexandra, this was my first attempt. Just played around with the most basic tools and effects. I used Cyberlink Power Director because it’s something I want to work in more seriously, but this video can be made with a simple free Windows Movie Maker. If you use Mac there are several free options. I can go over the process with you after class, it’s really really simple.

    Leslie, thank you, it looks like I did manage to convey to you what I find fascinating about this whole phenomenon. From posting passport images online to saying ‘I’m not fake’ on youtube, there are so many fascinating ways in which people seem to react when the authenticity of their identity is challenged. Your comment seems like the nudge I needed to just dive into this.
    Doing it on ChatRoullete can be fun – of course I will have to find ways to escape the dreaded F9 (which I’m so fixated with that I made it my display picture). In the context of my previous travelogue, it’s very obvious how women hold the power to choose. I might have to ask female friends to help.

  6. HoniehLayla 19:45, Mar 22nd, 10


    I really loved your video, especially the music ;) . I would definitely be interested in learning about how to create such a creative and interesting video.

    I would also agree with Nadine that you should narrow your search topic to something more specific. The only reason I say this is that you might have to do a GodFather like series on such a vast topic.

    Very very impressive work.

  7. Juliette 20:04, Mar 22nd, 10

    Wow Harris!
    This video is really nice! Please continue with this tool for your travelogues to come!

    Regarding your topic options I would love for you to go for the idea of performance. New Media tool seem to be the opportunity for people to make the most of their identity by creating something out of them. They are at the center and they can do a greater version of themselves.
    But from the audience perspective how to read between the lines? How to measure the quality of the perdormance? How to know whether it is worth it to spend time on these experience? For instance: How to find your way through Chat roulette to get to someone worth to interact with?

  8. Harris 20:29, Mar 22nd, 10

    Thank you Honieh,
    It’s a very touching Farsi poem about identity. This recording is from the early 80′s, the vocalists were both migrants to Pakistan – the woman from Afghanistan and the man from Iran. I don’t understand all of it though, but one day. One day I will write my own Farsi poem!

    Yes the topic needs to be narrowed down (duh!) I think Leslie just helped me choose a niche.

    A series is not a bad idea: ‘God Father : the mother of all travelogues!’ :)

  9. Harris 20:42, Mar 22nd, 10

    Juliette, that’s very nice of you. I will try to keep the flavor, although I do hope I get to create richer and more dynamic content through my interaction with people.

    Those are some very relevant questions that you ask. I don’t believe performances of identity can be qualified scientifically. The only way I can think of is to just interact with people in the particular new media environment I am looking at.

    Even if I passively look at youtube videos, I would want to familiarize myself with how the audience behaves and how the audience participates in the construction of the performer’s identity.

  10. Ryan 11:56, Mar 23rd, 10

    Great start for your rich media. Wonderful pictures with your culturally relevant music. Are you trying to see how people perform their identities through different languages e.g. a facebook site in english vs. there orkut site in Hindi or something along those lines. I like the projector video fx. I was thinking of using it myself, but didn’t want to step on your toes. I always think identity is one of the most interesting topics. I think its a really great topic trying to compare and contrast people’s online identities and how well it reflects their identity in real life. How would you determine something like this though > methodology?

  11. Harris 12:20, Mar 23rd, 10

    Thank you Ryan, and it’s okay, the projector/old movie effect is the most overused effect because of newbies like me, it wouldve been more appropriate for some parts of your video.
    Your questions of how to methodologically compare online identity with the offline one is something I’ve been thinking about. We usually just take people on, say chat roulette, on face value. So following Leslie’s suggestion I’m going to try to focus on how people react when their identity is challenged, when they are told that they are trying to be someone else.

  12. mushon 11:19, Mar 26th, 10

    Very nice indeed. I like the Chat Roulette direction though (not unlike any of your previous travelogues) this does bare some ethical questions. Will you inform people they are being recorded? Isn’t documenting and replaying defeating the spirit of CR? Wouldn’t this change of interface (see this week’s readings) also change the behavior?

    Aren’t we always performing anyway? Isn’t behavior a sort of performance all the time? When does it stop being performance? When you forget you’re performing? When does it start being over-performed? When it get’s too hard to maintain?

    Remember, we lead multiple identities/personalities and perform differently in different contexts. Better a complex identity than an identity complex…

    *The text in the beginning was running too fast, I respected your choice and I assumed it is not meant for me to read (rather than pause). Either way, readability speeds should be tested and controlled.

    As always, loving what you do and the passion you put into it :)

  13. nadine 20:15, Mar 26th, 10

    This reminds me of the thesis of the sociologist Ervin Goffman: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erving_Goffman\

    Goffman believes that we are always adapting our behavior and actions to other people. Therefore, our everyday day life resembles a theater scene, where we are constantly performing for an audience:

    “In our society the character one performs and one’s self are somewhat equated, and this self-as-character is usually seen as something housed within the body of the possessor, especially the upper parts thereof, being a nodule, somehow, in the psychobiology of personality. …While this image is entertained concerning the individual, so that a self is imputed to him, this self does not derive from its possessor, but from the whole scene of his action, being generated by that attribute of local events which renders them interpretable to witnesses. A correctly staged and performed scene leads the audience to impute a self to a performed character, but this imputation–this self–is a product of a scene that comes off, and is not a cause of it. The self, then, as a performed character, is not an organic thing that has a specific location, whose fundamental fate is to be born, to mature, and to die; it is a dramatic effect arising diffusely from a scene that is presented, and the characteristic issue, the crucial concern, is whether it will be credited or discredited.”

    Goffman, Erving(1956). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, 252-253)

  14. Maham 10:32, Mar 28th, 10


  15. juliette b 14:20, Mar 28th, 10

    Just thought I could had a litte theoretical background to complete Nadine’s input.

    Harris I think it could be worth it to have a look at Carl Jung’s work and his studies on the concept of Persona

  16. Harris 02:16, Mar 30th, 10

    Mushon, yes identity is almost always performed and in the words of Goffman quoted by Nadine, “A correctly staged and performed scene leads the audience to impute a self to a performed character.” As we go online, I think right now that we change genre, like from theater to film, now we can pause and manage the props, and there are unlimited retakes :)

    I’m sorry about the fast text, it wasn’t intended that way, it was an error of judgment that came from having read the text before. It was my first attempt at this :)

  17. Harris 02:30, Mar 30th, 10

    p.s. About the ethical problem, I’ve been thinking of two ways: 1) To find existing situations of people responding to challenges to their identity on youtube, and 2) going the unethical way and recording them anyway