If the web simultaneously puts us in a space where we have no other selfhood than what we publicly write, and where we are also the selves that carry on social, commercial and intellectual lives in that fallen atomic realm outside of digital space, then how do we begin to reliably expect or assert anything about the selves online and off that appear here, there, and elsewhere?
I think that “self” is not significantly modified or altered by the mode of transmission. However, the perception of self is. The question is one of the validity of testimony, rather than the constitution of self. It in the same problematic space as other indirect (inscribed, rather than spoken) modes of communication. The presence of a physical selfhood does not always simplify the problem. Even oral discourse, as noted by Aristotle, is not a sacred mode of “reliability” either — testimony may be influenced by torture. Thus the problem is, as Weinberger suspects, not specific to online discourse.
If the reader “must expect” to find both an alleged real self and invented selves, how can the reader ever decide which is which?
The only answer I can think of is context. The collapse of Dorothea’s expectations might be considered warranted in this respect. Jonathon did not declare anywhere, until afterward, that his blog was fictional.
He wrote for an extended period in a personal, revelatory way. Then he announced after the fact that it was fiction. This did not bother me the way that it did others. When I read the original post, I noted to myself that the “tone” of the post was different than Jonathon’s previous writing. It stuck out for some reason. As it did not contain anything that I intended to use for anything but entertainment, I wasn’t worried about its truth value. I didn’t think about it much really, even when he declared it was fiction. It was written by a voice that I associate with Jonathon, but I felt it was different. Like any sort of information, we’re selective about what we use to create an image of the writer. This post neither added to, nor subtracted from, my expectation of him.
I tend to believe that it is impossible to create great fiction consistently. There are cracks. As I tend to view blogs as a mélange of information, personality, and just plain entertainment, I don’t worry about what is fiction and what isn’t—unless I intend to use it for something.
Tom’s third question was in the form of a statement:
I don’t see what’s specific to weblogging.
Me neither. But I’m getting closer to writing something about that.