Goobbye 2007–reflections on the self

This is a repost from my blog.  On a personal note I would like to thank Jeff for the amount of himself that he poured into this class, and the seriousness with which you, my classmates, treated all of our work, while still having fun (at least I did).  I don’t have any logical or philosophical foundations for my claims, it is simply my opinions and the design ramifications that follow.


Last night I attended my last class of 2007.  I was very happy about it. Now is the time in my life where I get to do a lot of reflection anyway, I’m writing my statements for PhD programs and I get to take the largely seamless analog whole of my life and interpret it into something discreet and digital and coherent.  At least my professional life and research interests.

It’s not the easiest thing to do.  I mean I need to show how I’m unique, how my interests fit into the departments I’m applying to, into the program, how I will contribute, how I will be enriched.  This is a classic example of the constructedness of identity.  The question remains however, am I just showing different facets of myself, or is there no unity to the self?

Is there one true self, who you REALLY are?  I would say no.  Do  you have a soul? I would say yes.  How can these ideas coexist?

Happily they sit together, drinking tea.

There is no one true self, there is no way that you WILL be, that you OUGHT to be in the sense that if you don’t become that person you have betrayed your true nature.  While I do think it is possible that you may not have lived up to some kind of potential that exists in each of us, there is no preset amount of “greatness” that you could have accomplised.  Instead you have a soul, a part of the universe that is uniquely you, but what that soul is to become is up to you.  It is constructed by you and co-constructed by your environment, your peers etc.

The fragmentary nature of who we are is OK.  You will be someone different with different groups of people.  You are not being two faced in the same way as when you say something to one person and then do something else because you lied about it.

How does design fit into this kind of view?
Design should recognize that we are who choose to be.  Our constructedness and multi-faceted nature need not be made inorganic or undesirable.  Design should realize that we like to try out different roles, and then possibly take them off again.  Designs that support the exploration of self, what it means to live, to be, to become can be very powerful and affective.  I think games can do this extremely well since we can embody different characters and people as we play.  It is part of what makes it so great to play.  Games aside though I would like to see additional designed interactive artifacts that support this view of identity.  Ultimately I hope we have a way to manage all the data that represents us and doesn’t necessarily try to make it coherent for us, but rather it can let the data self-organize, or we can choose to let it be or make it more recognizable.


  1. datrushurtz

    I thought your post would be more of a reflection of the whole year rather than picking 1 individual topic, but your question is one I’ve often thought about myself, long before we learned the post-structuralist argument that claims there is no true self.

    We are always in the process of reconstructing our self as a natural process of growth. However, why is it that when I am around my friends who work for UITS, I act very differently than how I act towards my fraternity buddies. Is there a system of rules and expectations which I am merely following based on the constructed self of the other person? If there is no true self, how would I know “who they are” in a way that I would know how to act around them?

    I agree with you that some of the most powerfully designed games are those RPGs and other games which make us feel like we are “in the game” and this in the game feeling is likely a result of the game being so powerful, it has reconstructed our self. From a design point of view though, how does this bring up the idea of personas? We design things with certain personas in mind, but what if your design is so powerful, it actually changes the person we design for and that persona loses some of its applicability?

  2. houssian

    Sorry for misleading you a little with the title.

    I think the poststructuralist would probably say that you know the code for(or are part of the community) of people who work at UITS, and you know the code for people in your frat. You know what kinds of things are acceptable to say, you know which rules to follow, and when it’s ok to bend or break them. This conveniently answers the question of how you would know “who they are” they are part of _____ community, and you would treat them as such. You do not need to know “who they really are (or ought to be)” because no such thing exists in a normative sense.
    The idea that we ought to be the same person in all contexts and that person also ought to be our true selves is well not post modern, and I haven’t read much on this in philosophy, but I’m guessing that it would be hard to make those kinds of claims without a non-common sensical definitions of what counts as proof.

    To attempt an answer to your other question (I’ll go ahead and ask others to do a better job than I can if they so desire) I would say that personas are a great tool to be able to focus a designers thinking and get them of the “typical paths of thought.” Basically what I’m saying is that our ways of thinking are always already uniquely our own in the way we think. By using a persona it can help you to set that aside a bit. You can’t really overcome it, but it is a tool.

    As for a game or anything else in the world affecting us and co-creating who we are, I would say YES! That is the case. We can make a lot of choices as to how we react, what we expose ourselves to etc, but ultimately our environment will co-create us. I would saw we remain sovereign, but that’s debatable it would seem.


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