The essay I'm writing about tonight is "A Home on the Web: Presentations of Self on Personal Homepages" by Charles Cheung in the book web.studies. While clearly this essay is about homepages, a lot of it can be applied to profiles, especially on MySpace. In fact, perhaps MySpace is a remediation of the personal website. I'll go back to Remediation and maybe I'll write about this more on Tuesday. No, it totally is a remediation... I just can't expand on that yet.
Back to what I did read today: After describing what a personal homepage is, Cheung begins by briefly discussing self in late modernity as explained by Stuart Hall (which might be another useful piece to read). His bulleted overview starts by talking about how self as having range of identities in terms of gender, nationality, interests, political alignment and so on. The profile format allows for a simple way to display these identities and facets of identity. For example, a typical MySpace page has a section for "Details" such as [Relationship] Status, [Sexual] Orientation, Hometown, Ethnicity, Religion, Zodiac Sign, Education [Level], and so on and so forth. It basically gives a short, table format to present parts of your identity. There are also spaces to list favorite TV shows/movies/music/books, heroes, groups the user is in, who the user would like to meet, and an "About Me" section, all customizable by the user. Similar to a personal website, MySpace users can also add images and change the layout of their profile with a little knowledge of HTML.
Cheung talks about how "homepage self-presentation is a wholly voluntary affair where we choose our own target audience, or audiences, and decide which part(s) of our 'selves' are most suitable for presentation." (p 45) This once again brings me back to the selling of self. In a very basic way, this sounds like advertising to me and an attempt to appeal to others. However, there's still the empowerment of choosing how to present yourself and having a self-dictated fist impression of sorts. (An interesting dichotomy!) Cheung discusses the "emancipatory" aspect of the personal website, as it gives the author the time and freedom to work on their "outward appearance" that they would not get in a face-to-face encounter. And, after this personal website impression of the author, if users "like what they see, they may establish contact through e-mail, or via the site's guestbook or feedback forms. Cyberfriendships are made this way." (p. 49) MySpace has a much more immediate way of handling "cyberfriendships," if a MySpace user likes what they see on another MySpace user's profile, they just need to click "Add to friends". You don't even need to write anything: you just click the button. This act has been termed "friending" someone. You can also message the user and connect that way. There is also a guestbook-like feature where other MySpace users give shoutouts, messages and testamonials about the user in their profile.
So, MySpace incorporates all these aspects of personal websites in terms of self presentation, but does so in a way that's easier to work with for their users than HTML and webpage makers.
On a related note:
As I was working tonight, two of my friends have each spent about 5 minutes trying to find the best photo to put on their blog. "I want to find a normal picture of me; my committee is going to see this," one of them told me. While the people who their blogs are intended for already know them, they still put a fair amount of effort in their self-presentation in the optional profile sections of their blog.
I'll revisit some of these ideas later. Despite the notes I took and how much this essay gave me to think about, I'm not sure I have much more to write. Plus, I've been in the library building for 5 hours now, so I'm kind of groggy.