My grateful thanks to all those who took the time to review The Virtual Self or to interview me about it. Here’s a selection of some of the press:
*Author and essayist, Sven Birkerts was kind enough to review the book for The Globe and Mail. You can find the full text here. I was pleased that he picked up on one of the most (to me) significant themes in the book:
The interest of Young’s presentation is, I think, in her marshaling of diverse evidence toward a singularly disturbing claim. She writes: “We have embraced the self as something that can be studied, pointed to, and refined. Modern culture as a whole has driven us to become disciplined and productive beings, and over time we’ve come to see that productive, objectified self as the very definition of who we are….” The assertion is offered in such a reasonable tone that we might almost read past it – except that Young’s perspectives make the recognition hard to avoid.
Unpack those abstractions – as this book most readably does – and you get what the author is really saying. We are, by degrees, but quite rapidly, transitioning from one way of being to another, perforating the walls of the bounded free-standing self, removing ourselves from our former core subjectivity. No longer merely inhabiting ourselves, we are increasingly watching that inhabiting and making choices based on what we see.
*Writer, reviewer, and educator, Dana Hansen, has an interesting take on the book over at The Literary Review of Canada, here, combining a review with an educator’s look at digital natives, the self, and community. She observes her digitally engaged students’ lack of community engagement:
They do not view themselves, as we might wish, as citizens of a global community or possible agents of change. Too easily bored, if a topic under discussion in the classroom does not relate to their specific, individual needs and interests (often difficult to ascertain), they refuse to expend the mental energy required to participate, and instead retreat into their digital bubbles with their laptops and smart phones.
In this context, she thinks that my hopes for ‘data activism’ are too optimistic, and suggests there’s a contradiction in my belief that self-tracking – which can result in a crafted, performed, rigid ‘self’ – can also lead to more community/political engagement. It’s an interesting observation, and in retrospect, I wish I’d argued this part of the book more forcefully. My take is that while a hardened individualism is a danger in a culture of self-tracking, it is by no means a necessary outcome; perhaps her students are still at the stage in life where the, at times, navel-gazing question of the developing self is uppermost in their minds.
To clarify, as I argue at the end of the book, one of the benefits of online culture is that it in fact reveals the separate, hyper-individualized self to be a fiction, a historical creation. We are, in fact, “webby” – always, already nested in a linked, interrelated community, whether we are online or not. In this sense, I don’t think, then, that it really is a contradiction, but rather, the resolution of an apparent contradiction based on the lived experience of online life. In any case, hers is a thought-provoking read.
*Canadian Business has an extensive Q&A about the book here. Author and journalist, Peter Nowak (who has in the past contributed to Spark) kindly ran an extended version of that conversation on his blog, here.