Thursday, March 1, 2012

Who be you?

Ponder this question: What is a person?

This is not as abstract a question as one might think. In fact, it is one of the most down to earth question there is. Especially when you've met a new person, and try to find out who that really is.

If you are born on this temporal side of the Berlin Wall, the first step in finding out is to search the Facebook. There are many clues to be found there - liked pages, places visited and photos aplenty. And, more importantly, a list of friends to investigate.

One can say much about a person from the company they keep.

Which is even more relevant on Twitter, where company is everything. Who is the target of communication, retweets, favorites? What goes on in that timeline, and what can the implied flow of connections tell you about the new person?

With time to spare, these findings can be augmented with a close reading of the relevant blogs, Tumblrs and Livejournals. What could be more telling about someone than their own words, written about anything they like when they like?

What kind of ideas and discourses flows though this persons mind?

The question about what a person is suddenly starts to become less mysterious. An answer starts to emerge, and it says something to the effect that a person is not a monadic, isolated entity. Rather, a person is a mesh of - meshed in - interrelated networks of people, conversations, ideas and flows. And by getting a glimpse of these relations, networks and interrelated networks, some sort of understanding of the person in question happens.

Someone might argue that this is only true in an online environment. That these conversations and networks are an artifact of the abundant flows of communication, and that the predigital world was - in this and many other regards - different.

I'm not so sure about that. After all, what would a person be without these networks of people, discourses and ideas?

Some things change. Others tend to stay remarkably stable. Persons do both, at the same time. Without even questioning it.

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