Categorization and identity

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I tried an experiment yesterday: I organized my blogroll into different categories of webloggers, such as Really Scary Smart People, Huggables, Life Twisters, and so on.

The intention was to have a bit of fun, and also to hopefully encourage weblog readers into visiting these weblogs. One of the problems with blogrolls is that they’re so uniform and so common we tend to ignore them. By categorizing my blogroll friends, I had hoped to make them all stand out a bit.

What I forgot with this little brain storm of mine is that categorizing a person is probably one of the most depersonalizing things you can do to another human being. My putting an individual in a category said to that person, this is how I view you. I told them, “Forget the richness of your voice, the strength of your personality, the warmth of your humor, and my regard, and yes even love for you. You are (pick one: a/b/c/…).”

I took each of my friends and flattened them into a cookie-cutter category, and then walked away dusting hands off, pleased at my own cleverness. There are times when the Bird screws the pooch, and this was surely one of those times.

AKMA’s been talking about identity lately. In particular, he wrote the following:

One of the complicating elements in our discussion of identity comes from our tendency to take the partial information we have about someone’s identity as sufficient to envision his or her full identity.


Yesterday, I took one characteristic of each person and used this to form a basis for insertion into one category or another. By doing so I said to my weblog readers, “this weblogger is a Woman who Kicks Butt”. I set the stage for that reader so that when they go to Shannon’s weblog, they expect to see primarily a Woman who Kicks Butt. However, they may be shocked to see that the Woman who Kicks Butt is also a sensitive, accomplished and talented singer and songwriter, loyal friend, and highly complex and rich personality.

AKMA isn’t “just” a Huggable, Really Scary Smart person – he’s the one person who has broken through my deep distrust of Christians by showing that a Christian can have a sense of humor, can be tolerant, can love others regardless of their religious affiliation, and can have a deep moral integrity and loyalty that transcends any particular religious belief.

Chris isn’t just a Life Twister or Unique or Huggable – though all three are part of him. He’s an extremely caring person who believes strongly that we, as a people, can be better than how we see ourselves. When I think of him, I think of this person who wants to grab the world in a big bear hug, and then slap the world upside the head for all the idiotic things we do.

Sharon transcends Butt Kicker and Smart person and Artist, because she’s a mother and student and a very good friend who is going to be the world’s best librarian someday. Why? Because she has a deep love for books that goes beyond their material worth – to her words are gold, expressed thoughts diamonds.

I placed Jonathon into that old Australian Delegation classification, which removed any vestige of his personality, reducing him to nothing more than a citizen of a country. I disregarded the fact that when Jonathon writes about The Pillow Book or Tales of Genji, I want to curl up on the floor putting my head on my hands and just listen to the beauty of the words as they flow over and around me.

Dorothea is more than a Really Scary Smart Person or Woman who Kicks Butt. She wrote in the comments attached to the category posting:

There’s an interesting blog lurking in the experience, though, one AKMA might want to take a stab at. However much we try, we have limited control over how we are perceived by others. Our identities, if you will, are as dependent on the interpretation of others as is our writing on our readers.


Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that BB’s genial attempt to lend us personality led to difficulties. How many of us are entirely comfortable with the idea that our identities are not under our sole control?

Dorothea is an astute observer of humanity, with an incredible knack for cutting to the heart of the matter. She is, by far, richer than any one entry in any one category.

I am a neophyte in this new brave new world where we connect to others through the threaded void, but I am learning. I am learning.

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