Since just before Covid hit I've been working as an advisor to a startup called koodos. Perhaps the simplest way to describe it is this: They're building both an app (that's what you, the user, interacts with) and a protocol (that's what developers interact with) that enable crowdsourced sentiment around any piece of digital media.
So, working alongside koodos co-founder Jad Esber, I recently contributed to a fairly metaphysical piece on what this new approach to digital life signals. The full original post, entitled "From Shelf to Self: Identity Construction in the Digital World" was published on Substack and can be found here.
What follows here is an excerpted version.
Opening up your wallet
When the team was thinking about the ways to describe its flagship app, koodos — a media ‘wallet’, they often found ourselves using the analogy of things tacked up on bedroom walls. Or record collections. Or the books on one’s shelf. All of these represent a physical manifestation of who we are, what we are, and how we want those closest to us to perceive us.
Using this framing, of the shelf as a proxy for the self, it’s an interesting coincidence that the words self and shelf are only one letter apart. Because to self-chronicle is to self-construct. The journey of identity construction is intertwined with our active collecting and chronicling of things and ideas. It isn’t that fixed self that we have to actualize or memorialize, it’s the changing and evolving one.
But there's got to be more to life online than just a series of swipes, right?
Life online can move so quickly it often feels like a blur. Swipe left, swipe right, swipe up, swipe down. Dings and pings for update notifications. The rabbit holes that algorithms send us down, some of which end up being too good for our own good. And the next thing we know, three hours have passed.
What if we could slow things down, so that each digital moment doesn’t merely ‘autoplay’ into the next one? A place where things that truly resonate with us can be captured and serve as extensions of ourselves. Where our online actions are more intentional, more contemplative, and more deliberately non-swipey.
The people already using koodos come to it during what the team is calling a “koodos moment” — that recognition of “I love this”, that this thing I have encountered online really meant something to me, has reminded me of someone, has really resonated with me. If we wanted to get big-brainy about it, collecting on koodos lifts that moment to the level of consciousness. Of going from just one more nanosecond of life online to something of significance for us.
But simply collecting digital things, and moments, isn’t enough.
To produce is to real-ize
In French, the word for producer is ‘réalisateur’ — or the one who realizes. To produce is to realize. It’s the idea of making something ‘real’, of taking a jumble of ideas and turning them into something understandable and appealing. That’s what good producers do. They make things that don’t yet exist ‘real’. And this applies beyond the context of identity construction. If we think about the process of navigating ideas, we strengthen our understanding of the problem or get clarity on the idea by producing, by shipping, by putting something out there. The act of producing helps you realize the idea and take it from abstract to concrete.
On the internet today, consumption is generally considered the main way to establish one’s particular identity (i.e. we are what we consume), and production is usually ignored in the discourse around identity-forming. But what happens if we reframe things so that more of what we do is also seen as productive, and constitutive.
The more we realize, the more we become ourselves
The unity of one’s life consists in the coherence of the story one can tell about oneself.
As life plays out, we’re constantly re-writing our one-page autobiography. And the story that we tell about ourselves might be different in different contexts, around different audiences or in different points in time.
Alice in Wonderland knows this phenomenon well, as illustrated in her interactions with that Caterpillar character.
“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar.
Alice replied, rather shyly, “I — I hardly know, Sir, just at present — at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
“What do you mean by that?” said the Caterpillar, sternly. “Explain yourself!”
“I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, Sir,” said Alice, “because I am not myself, you see.”
So, like Alice, we’re constantly writing a rough draft of our autobiography. From a cultural theory perspective, we find ourselves in a metamodern phase of both self and society, or what comes after the postmodernist view of a rejection of grand, all-encompassing narratives and performances of the self.
Delineation of the self as part of our story
And as we chronicle our lives online, we are forced to distinguish between our role as reader and our role as protagonist. In the process we separate the self from the things that influence the self in the story we tell ourselves and the story we in turn tell the world about ourselves. The reluctance of most user-generated content platforms to come to terms with their status as not just a social network but also a personal resource is rooted in this tension.
Therefore any effort to understand the nature and origins of the self is an interpretive effort largely done elsewhere, in parallel somewhat to our life online. Where koodos sees a big opportunity is applying a constructivist lens, in which the self is something always evolving, to our digital identities.