Dan's Metablog
Writing about blogging, identity, and narrative

Kitzmann's "That Different Place"   Thursday, February 23   2:26 PM

Andreas Kitzmann's "That Different Place: Documenting the Self Within Online Environments," which popped up in van Dijck's essay, is firmly rooted in the media studies tradition, focusing in the interaction between humans and technology. He name-checked several media theorists, including Benjamin and Lyotard. Both webcams and weblogs serve as the objects of study, and kudos to Kitzmann for using them as support for a mainly theoretical argument rather than as claims presented as standard evidence. The essay begins by focusing on the print diary then moves into the digital.

Kitzmann separates his approach from the usual one, described here:

An "adaptation model" implicitly constructs a temporal hierarchy of formal and cultural elements in which, by virtue of their essential "natures," successive "new" media usurp their predecessors. (49)

Compare his method:

Instead, I would like to propose an approach that pays much closer attention to the material and experiential conditions of self-documentation, and to the manner in which those conditions are integrated into the much wider phenomenon of material "complexification." In constructing this approach, I am drawing upon the insights of Jean Francois Lyotard, Walter Benjamin, and more recently Mark Hansen, who each explore the interplay between technology and the structure of human experience. (49)

In this essay specifically:

For written and for online diaries, what we need is a critical or analytical perspective that can recognize and work with the broader "cosmological" shifts that alter not only experience within the medium, but also the nature of experience itself within the "universe" of embodied, conscious materiality.

The specific conditions explored in this essay are identity, privacy, reality, and time. While hardly exhaustive, these four conditions are arguably key with respect to their being reoccurring biographical and literary preoccupations. (51)

The diary and modernity:

Indeed, to make the self modern is to make it the center of attention: to reflect upon and articulate one's self as an individual, as one capable and perhaps even destined to determine one's fate and future. The place of the page thus becomes the place of the future, of the self made man or woman, of the isolated, focused and internally driven agent of history, will, and power. I write about myself, therefore I am. (53)

Diary as a site of stored memory:

The written diary thus functions as a memorial, an avatar one could say, that literally stands in place of the individual who wrote it. The slightly voyeuristic thrill (or feeling of guilt) that comes from reading someone else's diary arises from this fact, that one is potentially entering a secret and highly private world. (54)

Kitzmann ends this section by asserting the equivalence of print and online weblogs in the area of identity. The real differences lie elsewhere.


Fuzzy notions of private and public:

as Jeff Weintraub notes, "despite widespread use of public and private as organizing categories," the terms are "usually not informed by a careful consideration of meaning and implications" (2) (55)

Definition of privacy:

At its most basic, privacy can be defined as "the measure of control an individual has over 1) information about himself, 2) intimacies of personal identity, or 3) who has sensory access to him" (Schoeman 2). In essence, privacy here is an issue of access: to be private is to control or regulate the level of access that the "outside world" has to one's personal property, body, or thoughts.

A more tempered view of the blogger-audience interaction than I've found elsewhere:

For the Web diary writer, and indeed any Web self-documenter, the audience is not only anticipated, but expected, and thus influences and structures the very manner in which the writer articulates, composes, and distributes the self-document. (56)

Not tech-determinism, but tech as "equal partner" means that:

When considering the differences between written and online diaries in terms of private and public space, it is therefore necessary to consider how the technology itself makes possible and even naturalizes certain practices and experiences unique to its particular "nature." (59)


One view of media today:

In keeping with the work of Jean Baudrillard, postmodernity is said to have rendered the real obsolete, as distinctions between reality and unreality have blurred to the point where the artificial may seem even "realer" than the real. The concept of the original and the copy, which one could take as a foundation of the real, has been lost. There are only copies and derivations of simulations — pure simulacra. (59)

I think that Kitzmann is getting at something good here, but in the face of real atrocities he's not willing to quite commit to subjective truth. He moves on to diaries, and I'm hoping that he says something about fictional diaries not predicated on real individuals.

That diaries and autobiographies, both handwritten and electronic, are grounded to a significant extent on real, authentic individuals is a common enough assertion. Philippe Lejeune has famously described an "autobiographical pact" that underlies readers' expectations of autobiographical works. By violating the terms of the contract, writers who deliberately fictionalize their autobiographical accounts are said to have betrayed the trust of the reader, and in my interviews with diarists and Webcammers, a few acknowledge having been hurt and outraged by deliberate acts of deception. In fact, Web-based forms of self-documentation are so concerned about such violation that "reality" has been almost fetishized: proclaimed as a kind of value, especially in terms of "liveness." (59-60)

Apropos of a discussion of webcams, Kitzmann turns away from the simulacra theory to mimesis:

What is at work here is not a simulation, but instead a mutation of the much "older" mechanism of mimesis. (60)

[. . .]

Online self-documentation, and indeed most autobiographical representation, assumes that human actions and thoughts are actually being represented rather than created or simulated. (60)

Compare avatars in online gaming communities.


Emphasis on the present:

Dialogue, or more accurately "multi-logue," is the preferred mode of discourse: Web diarists write for themselves, and for others who also write for themselves and others, creating "Webrings" which encourage nearly constant interaction. This discursive environment clearly privileges the present, the moment within which material is created and exchanged. (62)


More on the old interpretative method:

However, I would argue that remediation remains more or less a theory of adaptation, because it still implies that existing cultural practices or traditions have the upper hand, still guiding or shaping the nature of the practice within each new media encounter. New media or technology functions as an empty vessel waiting to be "filled up" with cultural content. (63)

Note to self: pay more attention to Prof. Hansen in Theories of Media:

Hansen thus seeks to establish what he terms a "physiological basis for human interaction with technology that is not based primarily on language" (viii). Within such a mechanism, technology is emancipated "from its reductive metaphoric function," and properly recognized as "an agent of material change" that is inseparable from the "real that it produces" (65). (63)

Cite for this article:

Kitzmann, Andreas. That Different Place: Documenting the Self within Online Environments, Biography 26.1 (Winter, 2003): 48-65.

Interesting citations to follow up on:

Hansen, Mark. Embodying Technesis: Technology Beyond Writing. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2000.

Weintraub, Jeffrey. "The Theory and Politics of the Public/Private Distinction." Public and Private in Thought and Practice: Perspectives on a Grand Dichotomy. Ed. Jeffery Weintraub and Krishan Kumar. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1997.

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