When Does Ambiguity Become Oblivion?

When Chimamanda Adichie beautifully explained the “Danger of A Single Story,” I was amazed at the clarity with which she could delineate a topic that has been a cause of confusion to me for so many years. More specifically, I could relate to her childhood experiences: I grew up in Southern Arizona, where snow was just a thing in the picture books that I read. I used to dream of living in a wooden house with a chimney, drinking hot cocoa while sitting on a soft couch and gazing through the window at the falling snow. I can’t stress how much this was ironed into my imagination. So much so, that when I experienced my first blizzard in freshmen year of college, I momentarily thought I was living in a fictional story of some sort.

And I am ashamed to say that I have sometimes pulled out the stereotype card when I met Africans in the beginning of college. All I can say is that I have learned so much since then, and my awareness has quickly matured. Even if I did previously have a single story about an identity, I have learned to be curious about other perspectives when I meet people (and learn a multi-story), rather than trying to show what I already know about them (because I actually know nothing).

So I understand Adichie’s argument, and I agree with it on many levels. But I can’t help but wonder if there is any danger to a multi-story… The internet is wonderful in so many ways. It’s cool and sometimes easier to not have to reveal one’s own identity online. In this sense, the internet is giving me the freedom of choice to identify myself as whoever I want to be. I can emphasize my likable characteristics, and I can erase the stuff I don’t like.

In the past, people were not as mobile as we are today.  With the circumstances of technology, I’m assuming that when asked to identify oneself, a person would refer to his or her immediate surroundings: family, town community, etc. In a way, one story could apply to many people. Today, due to more advanced technology, we travel much more, and cultures mix. Hence, many stories can apply to one person, and that mix of stories is what makes that person unique.

Again, through the medium of the internet, social networking sites allow people to choose their identities. More specifically, people can pick which story to tell (or they can totally make one up!). This choice is a choice about online ambiguity of identity.  My question is where does this ambiguity turn into oblivion? I only pose this question because I have noticed it in my own actions. I am mixed, and I only reveal certain parts of me (stories) online when I feel that it is appropriate. Can this be considered disrespectful not only to the multi-story that is myself, but also the multi-stories that came before me—my ancestors? Because I see my online identity as my choice, when in reality, I am choosing a representation for the people who came before me, maybe that is enough to say that I am oblivious. This idea about online identity can become quite confusing, so I have a simpler example.

In class, we talked about news sources. Where does the typical person receive his or her news? I was surprised to observe that I actually never get my news online. I ask my dad about it. He filters out anything that I probably don’t want to hear. And we also generally agree on many situations, for now.

Why don’t I read the news online? That’s easy: because I feel as if I don’t know enough about the writer or the organization behind the news to tell if the news itself is presented in a biased light. As a result, my confusion (due to the ambiguity of identity online) leads to my oblivion towards the news. This is in no way any one else’s fault. If I wanted to properly digest news that I am interested in, I would have to train myself how to read and find the facts that are useful to me. I’ve simply decided that this would be too much work.

As a side note, the truth about news is: the big organizations that decide what news to share and not share are making a choice. Then by nature, the news presented is biased.

These are just some of the thoughts that I have been having throughout this course. And I am certain that some research would back up my arguments, or totally disprove them. If I end up pursuing these questions for my final project, I can’t wait to explore more and share my findings with you!

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