Stephanie: This was a first for us in that we were hiring someone for a position in Computer Mediated Communication (CMC). I had a fairly clear idea of what I thought the department needed in a "CMC person." For example, I wanted to identify applicants who had the technical abilities to construct a website and the theoretical background to examine CMC in useful ways. When I visited applicants' homepages, I was interested in how they used cyberspace to construct professional and interpersonal aspects of themselves.
Pages and pages of white paper with black marks--these constitute the applicant's file. Such texts are linear, more easily managed by applicants and more easily dismissed by readers. Homepages are more fluid, personal, and complex. As McKerrow, Wood, and Smith (1998) observe, "the electronic environment is different. . . . [There is a] blurred distinction between author and reader." Readers have the ability to actively participate in others' homepages: signing guestbooks, clicking on links, sending links, and adding visited homepages to the readers' (now authors') homepages. Moreover, "the fundamental challenge with this [electronic] format is its non-linearity. Traditional texts are linear in that they may be read in a limited number of ways. . . . Electronic texts are built according to intersections, not planes" (McKerrow et al., 1998).
Visitors also participate in the homepage author's construction of self, as they follow some links and ignore others. For example, in visiting Andy's webpage, I primarily focused on the professional information he presented, following links to his vita and classes. I didn't visit Motel Americana until after he accepted the position. Yet, I saw that (and other links) which gave me a sense of someone with many interests outside the academy. The website provided "flesh" for the "bones" of those white pages with black marks. As you were a job applicant not so very long ago, I want to hear more about your views on this body metaphor . . .
Andy: Borrowing from recent illumination provided by McKerrow (1998), I suggest that online candidacy does not strip one of identity. Rather, we are more or less free to clothe ourselves as we will. This is a corporeal rhetoric, one that assumes that before the subject of a homepage or other text is a body of some sort. Such a constructed self is shaped by dimensions of time and space. In its most basic sense, the vita (life, in Latin) offers a narrative of facts placed in "formation." Yet, other components of the embodied-online job seeker such as a list of favorite websites, a collection of photographs, a hobby page dedicated to personal interests, and other apparently non-job related material serves to "flesh out" the online self. The resulting constellation of texts is not fixed in a physical sense. The reader's ability to select the manner in which s/he resides with this online job seeker eliminates the potential of a fixed body. Even so, the body is given shape and a sense of presence useful in an otherwise impersonal process.
The question for me remains: was there a fundamental difference to my job search that resulted from the fact that a fairly sizable amount of my candidacy was presented online? By placing materials, images, and constellations of links online, I sought to ensure that a virtual "Andy" was accessible even when my physical presence was located in Athens, Ohio. The question that emerges, I'm sure, concerns the ethical and political implications of such an act. In our conversations, Stephanie, you've emphasized that you were judicious in your meeting with my online self. There are clearly significant legal and political ramifications to the construction on an online "body."
Dr. Andrew Wood and Dr. Stephanie Coopman - last updated April 13, 1999