Using the metaphor of Powers of 10 as way of looking at the blog and identity, I will start by zooming into the infrastructure of the blog, then zooming out some theoretical considerations of how the act of blogging constructs the blogger’s identity, the finally to a view of the role community and blogosphere as a whole.
Defining the blog as a medium
In the introduction to Gerard Genette’s text, Richard Macksey argues that paratexts are “the liminal devices and conventions, both within the book (peritext) and outside it (epitext), that mediate the book to the reader” as well as the “framing elements” of the text which help create meaning for the reader (xviii). The blog’s content is important, but it is only a small part of the analytic problem when looking at the larger issue of identity. The software, the blogger, and her community are interrelated components which create and mediate the blogger’s identity for both blogger and blogosphere. Whereas Genette uses the concept of paratext as something “enables a text to become a book and to be offered as such to its readers” (1), this study looks at the software, the blogger and her community as three paratextual elements of the blog that can serve as a method for unfolding the mechanisms of identity within.
In her article “A Blogger’s Blog: Exploring the Definition of a Medium,” danah boyd “invites scholars to conceptualize blogging as a diverse set of practices that result in the production of diverse content on top of a medium that we call blogs” (1). She goes on to argue that
by conceptualizing the blog as a medium instead of a genre, it is possible to see how blogs are more akin to paper than to diaries. It is not the conventions or content‐types that define blogs, but the framework in which people can express themselves. Using paper, people document their lives. The same is true in blogs. Using paper, people take notes. The same is true in blogs. Paper and blogs are used for everything from creating grocery lists to publishing innovative research, drawing pictures to advertising furniture for sale, tracking personal bills to writing gossip columns. Mediums are flexible, allowing all different sorts of expressions and constantly evolving.
Although this analogy allows us to see blogs as flexible conduits for the creation of identity, when looking at blogs as paper, as platforms, we are also aware of how that paper is configured. We use different papers in different ways; lined paper invites us to compose writing, sketch paper suggests a more unstructured use of the space, and a ledger implies the recording of business data.
One can think of the relationship of the blog and the software the runs it in the same terms as paper and the diary. The average user would not spend time thinking of the elements of interface within the blog software they are using, but it greatly determines the way in which they will blog. As the ledger implies financial data, so does the interface that provides fields to record your current mood, reading, and listening alongside categories and topic fields.
Likewise, the community in which the blogger situates herself will also have an important effect on how her identity develops. Evan Williams knew when he started Blogger that the form and format were more important than the content (Blood (2004) 54); Marshall McLuhan’s famous and overused quote did not say the genre was the message, and it is time that we as researchers take that into account.
It's about identity
Arguing for the creation of identity through medium is not without its dangers: identity is a very subjective, full, and locative term. Identity has different critical meanings to different disciplines: philosophers mark “identity” as that which simply differentiates one item from another; in terms of an individual’s identity, they prefer to use the term “personal identity” - a particularly troublesome term, fraught with questions (Olson Stanford Encyclopedia of Psychology);1 psychology breaks identity into self‐identity, social identity, cultural identity, and gender identity.
When I refer to a blogger’s identity in this work, I talk primarily of her online identity. As I will discuss in chapter two, the blogger’s identity conflates presence and absence, representing the blogger even when she is not physically present at her blog. Yet, “identity” is the right term; bloggers frequently self‐identify with their blogs; boyd argues it is “the facet of them that is captured through the practice of blogging” (“A Bloggers Blog” 11).
Like the picnicker in Powers of 10, there is a universe which surrounds the blog, and particles of information that it consists of. A rich study of the blog, especially in terms of the production of identity, must travel through all the levels in order to fully understand the mechanisms at work. I will use several different methodological approaches throughout this work to untangle the influence the blog’s paratextual elements have on the blogger’s identity.
In chapter one, I offer an in‐depth look at what happens beyond the sight of the blogger at the microscopic level; the simple choice of software is not simple at all and in fact has a great influence on the shape a blogger’s identity will take through the interface, program design, and data structures imposed on her by the software. This primarily technical discussion will illuminate the inner workings of the medium and gives due credence to Marshall McLuhan’s argument that “the ‘message’ of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs” (8).
In chapter two, I look at how the blogger works to define her own identity. For this, I take a more theory‐based approach, using a layered implementation of Jacques Lacan, Alfred North Whitehead, and N. Katherine Hayles. A process not dissimilar from Jacques Lacan’s mirror stage theory of identity formation is encountered by the blogger as she blogs; however, unlike the Lacanian subject, her identity is in a constant state of construction and deconstruction, flickering between the ideal and social “I” reflected back at them. Lacanian identity is troubled by the posthuman body, which lacks presence/absence, and it is unable to resolve its identity.
In chapter three, I travel 100,000,000 light years to look at how the blog and the blogger operate within the larger context of their community. The first stop in this journey is the community around a single blog; I look to Ze Frank’s The Show and Heather Armstrong’s Dooce to investigate how community works with the blogger to produce identity. Next, I look at the community a blogger joins outside her own blog. For this I look to Blog Her, a coalition of women bloggers. Finally, I look at the community journal site LiveJournal, investigating the role of the confessory impulse in the production of the blogger’s identity.
The Eames started their journey by zooming out into the universe; let’s instead start by looking inward.
1 Olson writes that the term is “not a single problem but rather a wide range of loosely connected questions” of personhood, persistence, evidence, and population.