Constructing websites as constructing ourselves: Thinking out loud

This is just me, thinking out loud, so expect it to be rough, incomplete, unpolished. But I thought it was a train of thought worth stopping, so here we go.

When you’re driving down a city street at a cool 35 mph while “Belle” plays on repeat one for the 1000th+ time in recent months and your toddler is in the back seat sulking because Daddy has to go to work today and separation from Daddy is painful, your mind wanders. It does if you’re me, anyway. Mine wandered to the way in which the only thing I seem interested in besides sleep lately is tweaking my personal website. Then I thought:

As I'm building my website, it kind of feels like I'm building myself.

Identity construction is kind of an obsession of mine, specifically the idea that we create our own identities through narratives we tell about ourselves. Sure, there are identities the world forces upon us, but our narratives interact with those. Most of my work in my doctoral program has touched on identity in one way or another:

  • I wrote about the maker movement in libraries and found Breanne Litts's Activity-Identity-Community framework, which posits that the development of maker identities is one of the pillars of the maker movement.
  • I wrote about how libraries can leverage tabletop roleplaying games to support teen identity development (in revision for Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults).
  • I touched on the process of developing an identity as an improviser as a key part of participating in the improv comedy community.
  • I wrote about how horizontal learning enables young people to leverage their out-of-school identities for academic success.
  • I wrote about how young people imagine their possible future selves.

And my favorite fictional works often have to deal with reconciling different pieces of one’s identity: Spider-Man, Sailor Moon, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer all come to mind. (And the X-Men; I was just reading an old Chris Claremont book - Uncanny X-Men #129, 130 - somewhere in there - where Nightcrawler thinks about how he’s decided not to disguise himself as a normal human; I think there’s something to unpack there.) So, I guess superheroes are what I’m talking about, and I’m sure lots of work has already been done on how superhero identity plays out, including Brownie & Graydon’s book.

So I was thinking about how building my website feels like building myself, and I thought… hasn’t this been true since I first started building websites in 1995? I got my first personal domain in 2001, and building an online space to represent myself has always meant choosing what I want the world to know about me, who I want to seem to be, and by defining who I want to seem to be, am I not defining who I want to actually be?

Then I thought about social media and all the ways we’ve used them to represent ourselves, and all the ways that has gotten away from us. Before we knew how bad Facebook was, when my husband would add a new friend on Facebook, he would immediately peruse their profile to find out what books and movies they liked; what we like contributes to the picture of who we are, but what we want people to know we like does even more so, I think.

My train of thought loses steam here, but I’m definitely interested in digging into the intersection between technology and identity more. Our tools shape not only how we think, but who we are.

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Kimberly Hirsh @KimberlyHirsh
IndieWebCamp An IndieWeb Webring  This work is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 .

I acknowledge that I live and work on unceded Lumbee, Skaruhreh/Tuscarora, and Shakori land. I give respect and reverence to those who came before me. I thank Holisticism for the text of this land acknowledgement.

We must acknowledge that much of what we know of this country today, including its culture, economic growth, and development throughout history and across time, has been made possible by the labor of enslaved Africans and their ascendants who suffered the horror of the transatlantic trafficking of their people, chattel slavery, and Jim Crow. We are indebted to their labor and their sacrifice, and we must acknowledge the tremors of that violence throughout the generations and the resulting impact that can still be felt and witnessed today. I thank Dr. Terah ‘TJ’ Stewart for the text of this labor acknowledgement.