Columns

I Me Mine!

If, as Sir Tim Berners-Lee suggests, the Web is still a drooling, id-driven baby that wallows in its own (proverbial) feces, it makes sense that we continue to be mired in its arrested development.

Recently, in a grotesque example of modern multitasking, I found myself tracking a UPS package on my laptop while simultaneously witnessing an argument between toddlers. Neither of these are especially enjoyable activities for me; both tend to involve an inordinate amount of frustration, a complete breakdown in anything remotely resembling logic, and an ultimately unsatisfactory resolution. And like toddlers, UPS tracking tends to lie shamelessly.

But after listening to the grievances aired between these tykes while entering my pi-length tracking number, another similarity jumped out at me, one that all of a sudden felt embarrassing. As they tirelessly volleyed “My Beanie Baby”, I noticed that I was clicking on a rather whiny icon in which I laid claim to “My UPS.” And, unlike my nearby friends who were bitterly contesting issues of ownership while soiling their pull-ups, I wasn’t even being challenged on the matter.

The cutesy, infantilized “my” of Internet customization is one of those phenomena which, for many people, is vaguely noticed without warranting much focused scrutiny. Sure, at some point I may have felt mildly silly clicking on “MyEbay” in order to track auctions in progress, or using “My Amazon” to assess the items in My Cart. I might have idly wondered why so many adult transactions were being made to sound like a Chuck E. Cheese birthday party gone wrong, but mostly, I just ignored it and went on with My Life.

In all fairness, the “My” feature is mostly based in practicality; it’s used as a means of managing account information, or as a virtual representation of a physical purchase. “This is in your imaginary cart now,” it assures us. In this way, we know that soon, it will physically be in our (my) possession.

But the “my” phenomenon isn’t entirely limited to the pragmatic realm of business transactions. On many websites, there seems to be a persistent need to offer visitors the option of personalization, of their own “special place” within the labyrinth of the larger structure, much like a creatively decorated cubicle. There are even entire websites dedicated to the “my” principle of customization.

Out of curiosity, I decided to do a search under the word “My”, just to see what came up. Here’s just a smattering of what I found: My T-Mobile, My New York Times, My Widgets, My Feeds, My Tupperware, My Anime, My Netscape, and My Monster. My, my, my! The blunt, bossy avarice of these digital requisitions was staggering. In particular, I thought “My Widgets” and “My Monster” lacked dignity. Of course, there’s also MySpace, the classic and definitive “my”, which doesn’t really need the redundancy of a “My MySpace” subcategory.

There were a couple of odd ones, too; like My Funeral Site, which was described as “an internet solution for everyone in the death-care industry,” My Fruit Rollups, in which individuals can personalize flattened slabs of high-fructose corn syrup, and My Viral Lottery, which I don’t think I feel like explaining. There was also a customizable My Starbucks Idea, in which visitors can presumably share whatever notions may be swirling around in their heads regarding Starbucks.

This one in particular amused me, since in my opinion, if “your idea” involves Starbucks, it is, by definition, not unique or specific to you in any way. In fact, I suspect that if you sit around and wait for bursts of inspiration about Starbucks, you might not even be entitled to claim full ownership of “your mind”.

This gave me an important clue, confirmed when I continued to navigate the precious and unique terrain of My UPS: nothing in this world felt less like “mine” than UPS. Just as a general rule, the people, things and entities with which I share a sense of belonging usually do not know me as 1Z1E91810324082459. (It’s also worth mentioning that even in My very own UPS, where I reign supreme, my stuff was still not going to show up for another four days, even though I’d paid expedited shipping).

This led me to wonder whether the need for customization is, perhaps, a reaction to the infinitely overpopulated, impersonal nature of the World Wide Web. The Internet, to a degree, facilitates uniformity and sameness; so many of us read the same articles, participate in the same discussions, and respond to each other’s BTWs with the same LOLs. Information is multiplied and distributed at the speed of light; thousands of us converge in chat rooms, “webinars” and online communities.

Maybe, within the vastness and anonymity of the World Wide Web, there is the need for individuals to stake out their own territory, to greedily snatch their piece of the pie, and to announce it like petulant toddlers. “That’s My Widget! That’s My Yahoo!”

But what is the purpose of the regressive, patronizing language of “my”? Why do our online personas need to be mollified in a saccharine, congratulatory tone usually reserved for praising a motor skill-challenged kid for eating with a “big boy fork”?

I decided that in order to decipher the odd juvenilia of the online “my”, I would consult the psychological theories of childhood development. Freud’s psychosexual stages ultimately yielded very little in my admittedly cursory research (although his “anal expulsive” personality could explain the existence of certain blogs).

I found the most interesting insights in the works of Erik Erikson. In Erikson’s stages of child development, there is a phase called Autonomy Versus Shame and Doubt. In this phase, children are compelled to differentiate themselves from others, and to assert their independence and individuality. I suppose this struggle for differentiation must have been especially resonant to a person with a name like Erik Erikson.

At any rate, the need for differentiation is often manifested in verbal use of the words “my” and “mine”, and in the claiming of possessions. According to one description of this phase, “We grab and take what is forbidden and fiercely assert that "it is MINE." We respond with animal rage when we are forbidden to touch or to take what is obviously ours. After we bite, hit, scream or yell and are still not given OUR possession back, we throw a temper tantrum to express our frustration.”

Although the online expression of ownership is somewhat more grown-up, I wonder if it the need to assert what is mine may stem from a similar rooted assertion of autonomy, an insistence that we are separate from others in the strange, confusing world of the Internet. We are not simply part of the nebulous, collective swamp of personalities and searches and numbers and letters. We are each a singular person, unique from other persons (or so we'd like to think), and certain things on the Internet are ours.

And yet, the ownership of My UPS and My EBay and My Widgets rings hollow. My New York Times essentially serves up the same news as everyone else’s New York Times. My Monster offers the same classified ads to all those within our profession and region (and does not necessarily lead to “My Job”). We still have plenty of reasons to feel insecure and unaccounted for.

The Internet, in actuality, is hardly a toddler, having celebrated its 15th birthday in April. So technically, it should be breaking out in zits and spying on the neighbor lady while she undresses (actually, I guess it does do the latter). Yet, the BBC recently quoted British inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who is credited as one of the pioneers of the World Wide Web, as saying that the Web is “still in its infancy.” Nobody would know this better than a proud parent.

So if the Web is still a drooling, id-driven baby that wallows in its own feces, it makes sense that we continue to be mired in its arrested development. It also follows, then, that for all of our knowledge and intelligence, we are operating from a rudimentary mentality and phraseology. Think about it: the other means of asserting Internet autonomy – the use of avatars and emoticons – also seem a bit crude and embarrassing, like playing with puppets or dolls well after attaining adulthood.

I can only imagine that as the internet grows up, we will be spared the humiliation of temper tantrums and puppets, and will live to see more sophisticated means of asserting our otherness. According to Erikson, the next stage, “Initiative Versus Guilt”, consists of a child developing “locomotion, language skills, curiosity, imagination, and the ability to set goals.” Ah, these behaviorisms would be refreshing leaps in progress for the Internet.

Of course, the Web’s progress may take a Freudian Oedipal turn rather than an Eriksonian one. In this case, it will fall in love with its mother, kill its father, and poke out its own eyes out of shame. This, too, might indicate an unprecedented level of maturity, and a suitably dignified ending for the Internet. For that, I might even be willing to give up My Widgets.

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less
10

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image