Tag Archives: self-presentation

Curating Reality: Insights From the Chick-fil-A Wars

Fry on Fry Love

Chick-fil-A has delicious waffle fries. So delicious. But before getting in to the content of this post, I should locate myself by stating that I have not purchased anything from this company in over a year, and I will never consume those warm checkered squares of potato-y goodness again.  The reason for this (in case anyone has been living under a rock/in a dissertation shaped bubble) is that the company explicitly opposes same-sex marriage. I am explicitly anti-bigotry, and so I do not purchase food from Chick-fil-A

Okay, now I can theorize. (more…)

Curating Reality

 


I have mentioned previously on this blog that I am engaged in an ongoing, qualitative, Facebook-based project looking at the experiences of social media users. None of the work from this most recent project is yet published, though I did use the data for my TtW2012 presentation. As I move into manuscript preparation, there are several theoretical and empirical trends that I need to flesh out.  I hope that readers will indulge me today as I work through one such trend. I especially hope that readers will offer critiques and literature suggestions, as the end product will inevitably be strengthened through collaborative input from this academic community.

Specifically, I hope to flesh out the notion of reality curation. Much of the work on social network sites focuses on self-presentation, or the ways in which people curate images of themselves.  These strategies of image-curation include friending practices, selective photographic and textual displays, and careful utilization of privacy settings—among other practices. Users are careful about their self-images, diligent in their upkeep, and protective against identity threats. Undeniably, I see these laborious practices of protection, maintenance, and care in the participants of my study. I also, however, see a second kind of labor; I see a diligent upkeep not only of outgoing data, but also incoming data. In particular, participants report careful curation of their Facebook News Feeds and (when applicable) Twitter networks.

This second type of curation—the curation of data coming in—is empirically and theoretically interesting. Work that focus on self-presentation (data going out) understands social network sites as both window and mirror—spaces for both voyeurism and self-reflection. This implicitly neglects, however, the idea that windows work two ways: they offer a view from outside in, but also a view from inside out. Social network sites, as opposed to non-social websites, are spaces of simultaneous projection, reflection, and, as I argue here, observation by the prosumer of the Profile.

(more…)

Equipment: Why You Can’t Convince a Cyborg She’s a Cyborg

Everybody knows the story: Computers—which, a half century ago, were expensive, room-hogging behemoths—have developed into a broad range of portable devices that we now rely on constantly throughout the day.  Futurist Ray Kurzweil famously observed:

progress in information technology is exponential, not linear. My cell phone is a billion times more powerful per dollar than the computer we all shared when I was an undergrad at MIT. And we will do it again in 25 years. What used to take up a building now fits in my pocket, and what now fits in my pocket will fit inside a blood cell in 25 years.

Beyond advances in miniaturization and processing, computers have become more versatile and, most importantly, more accessible.  In the early days of computing, mainframes were owned and controlled by various public and private institutions (e.g., the US Census Bureau drove the development of punch card readers from the 1890s onward). When universities began to develop and house mainframes, users had to submit proposals to justify their access to the machine. They were given a short period in which to complete their task, then the machine was turned over to the next person. In short, computers were scarce, so access was limited. (more…)

Frictionless Sharing and the Digital Paparazzi

(Or: How we’ve come to be micro-celebrities online)

Facebook’s recent introduction of “frictionless sharing” is the newest development in a growing trend: data is being increasingly produced passively as individuals conduct their day-to-day activities. This is a trend that has grown both on and offline. We will focus on the former here; especially “frictionless” sharing that involves syncing Facebook with other sites or apps. Once synced, much of what a user listens to, reads or otherwise accesses are automatically and immediately published on Facebook without any further action or approval.  Users may not even need to “opt into” frictionless sharing because many services are changing their default setting to automatically push content to Facebook. In short, we can say that users play a passive role in this process.

Contrast this to more active sharing: when we “like” or “+1” something (by clicking the eponymous buttons that have spread throughout the Web) it requires the user to make a conscious and affirmative action to share something with others in their network. Nathan Jurgenson (one of this post’s co-authors) previously described these two models as types of “documentary vision:” We actively document ourselves and our world around us as if we have a camera in our hand (“liking”, status updates, photos, etc.), or we can passively allow ourselves to be documented, curating our behaviors along the way (e.g., reading a magazine article so that you can present yourself as the type of person who “likes” that sort of magazine) much like a celebrity facing a crowd of paparazzi photographers.

Let’s make another layer of complexity to this documentary model (more…)

Body Modification, Gender, and Self-Empowerment

Recently I stumbled across this interview with Jacqui Moore, a rather well-known and visible member of the body modification community for her extensive black and grey full body suit. Bearing the rather exploitative tagline (which states “A respectable mother celebrated her divorce by asking her new boyfriend to cover her entire body – with a single TATTOO”), which makes her sound not only impulsive but pathological, what does this case reveal about contemporary body modification practices? What is the relationship between gender, patriarchy, and body modification? And what are the costs of using indigenous iconography and rituals in one’s body modification practices?

Jacqui Moore with husband Curly

(more…)

Augmented Reality Tattoos REDUX

YouTube Preview Image

I already wrote on augmented reality tattoos once before, so I will keep it brief. This video shows a client receiving a QR code tattoo, which then links to Youtube and plays a little cartoon of a singing man. Now, although the artist is off in proclaiming it as the “first ever” of its kind, it once again highlights a growing trend in the body modification community. Not only does the fusing of technology and the body create unique cyborg bodies, it also reveals the importance of such new technologies for the expression of our selves and identities. For instance, will people begin tattooing QR codes on themselves that link to their personal blogs and Facebook accounts? This would make a very interesting case of self-branding!

Another trend I have observed in my own research on tattooing is the role of the prosumer. This video shows the tattoo artist K.A.R.L. livestreaming his tattoo appointment online, communicating with observers in a chatroom format while tattooing his client. Now this is nothing new. In fact, some of my close friends have been doing this for years and I myself have been tattooed in front of an internet audience several times. But what makes this example interesting is the fact that the internet audience, as a body of prosumers, helped K.A.R.L. determine the tattoo design itself. This is unheard of. I have yet to see tattooers take such a “crowd-sourcing” approach to their work.

But this video does speak to the importance of Web 2.0 to contemporary tattoo fame. In a media-saturated environment, tattoo artists now must aggressively market themselves online through SNS like Facebook and Myspace, and through livestreaming tattoo events like this. At a time when tattoo collecting itself has become globalized (Irwin 2003), tattoo artists can no longer afford to become a “big fish in a small pond” as one tattoo artist told me. In order to survive in an increasingly media-saturated community, tattoo artists themselves must become hypervisible online, showcasing their work across several online avenues and building a client pool that spans several continents. Such is the nature of contemporary elite tattooing (Irwin 2003).

The Faux-Vintage Photo: Full Essay (Parts I, II and III)

I am working on a dissertation about self-documentation and social media and have decided to take on theorizing the rise of faux-vintage photography (e.g., Hipstamatic, Instagram). From May 10-12, 2011, I posted a three part essay. This post combines all three together.
Part I: Instagram and Hipstamatic
Part II: Grasping for Authenticity
Part III: Nostalgia for the Present

a recent snowstorm in DC: taken with Instagram and reblogged by NPR on Tumblr

Part I: Instagram and Hipstamatic

This past winter, during an especially large snowfall, my Facebook and Twitter streams became inundated with grainy photos that shared a similarity beyond depicting massive amounts of snow: many of them appeared to have been taken on cheap Polaroid or perhaps a film cameras 60 years prior. However, the photos were all taken recently using a popular set of new smartphone applications like Hipstamatic or Instagram. The photos (like the one above) immediately caused a feeling of nostalgia and a sense of authenticity that digital photos posted on social media often lack. Indeed, there has been a recent explosion of retro/vintage photos. Those smartphone apps have made it so one no longer needs the ravages of time or to learn Photoshop skills to post a nicely aged photograph.

In this essay, I hope to show how faux-vintage photography, while seemingly banal, helps illustrate larger trends about social media in general. The faux-vintage photo, while getting a lot of attention in this essay, is merely an illustrative example of a larger trend whereby social media increasingly force us to view our present as always a potential documented past. But we have a ways to go before I can elaborate on that point. Some technological background is in order. (more…)

The Faux-Vintage Photo Part III: Nostalgia for the Present

I am working on a dissertation about self-documentation and social media and have decided to take on theorizing the rise of faux-vintage photography (e.g., Hipstamatic, Instagram). To start fleshing out ideas, I am doing a three-part series on this blog: part one was posted Tuesday (“Hipstamatic and Instagram”) and part two yesterday (“Grasping for Authenticity”). This is the last installment.

taken recently, this is a simulated vintage image of a simulation

With more than two million users each, Hipstamatic and Instagram have ushered a wave of simulated retro photographs that have populated our social media streams. Even a faux-vintage video application is gaining popularity. The first two posts in this series described what faux-vintage photography is, its technical facilitators and attempted to explain at least one main reason behind its explosive popularity. When we create an instant “nostalgia for the present” by sharing digital photos that look old and often physical, we are trying to capture for our present the authenticity and importance vintage items possess. In this final post, I want to argue that faux-vintage photography, a seemingly mundane and perhaps passing trend, makes clear a larger point: social media, in its proliferation of self-documentation possibilities, increasingly positions our present as always a potential documented past.

Nostalgia for the Present
The rise of faux-vintage photography demonstrates a point that can be extrapolated to documentation on social media writ large: social media users have become always aware of the present as a potential document to be consumed by others. Facebook fixates the present as always a future past. Be it through status updates on Twitter, geographical check-ins on Foursquare, reviews on Yelp, those Instagram photos or all of the other self-documentation possibilities afforded to us by Facebook, we view our world more than ever before through what I like to call “documentary vision.” (more…)

The Faux-Vintage Photo Part II: Grasping for Authenticity

I am working on a dissertation about self-documentation and social media and have decided to take on theorizing the rise of faux-vintage photography (e.g., Hipstamatic, Instagram). I want to start fleshing out ideas and will do so with a three-part series on this blog: I posted part one yesterday (“Hipstamatic and Instagram”) and tomorrow I will post the third and final part (“Nostalgia for the Present”). [Update: Read the full essay here.]

If you use social media then you probably have noticed the recent proliferation of faux-vintage photography, often the product of smartphone applications such as Hipstamatic and Instagram. I describe in part I of this essay posted yesterday what faux-vintage photography is and noted that it is a new trend, comes primarily from smartphones and has proliferated on social media sites like Facebook, Tumblr and others. However, the important question remains: why this massive popularity of faux-vintage photographs? I will tackle this question today, and in part III tomorrow, will conclude that the rise, and potential fall, of faux-vintage photography illustrates larger points about social media in general.

What I want to argue is that the rise of the faux-vintage photo is an attempt to create a sort of “nostalgia for the present,” an attempt to make our photos seem more important, substantial and real. We want to endow the powerful feelings associated with nostalgia to our lives in the present. And, ultimately, all of this goes well beyond the faux-vintage photo; the momentary popularity of the Hipstamatic-style photo serves to highlight the larger trend of our viewing the present as increasingly a potentially documented past. In fact, the phrase “nostalgia for the present” is borrowed from the great philosopher of postmodernism, Fredric Jameson, who states that “we draw back from our immersion in the here and now [...] and grasp it as a kind of thing.”* (more…)

The Faux-Vintage Photo Part I: Hipstamatic and Instagram

I am working on a dissertation about self-documentation and social media and have decided to take on theorizing the rise of faux-vintage photography (e.g., Hipstamatic, Instagram). I want to start fleshing out ideas and will do so with a three-part series on this blog: I will post part two (“Grasping for Authenticity”) tomorrow and part three (“Nostalgia for the Present”) Thursday.

a recent snowstorm in DC: taken with Instagram and reblogged by NPR on Tumblr

This past winter, during an especially large snowfall, my Facebook and Twitter streams became inundated with grainy photos that shared a similarity beyond depicting massive amounts of snow: many of them appeared to have been taken on cheap Polaroid or perhaps a film cameras 60 years prior. However, the photos were all taken recently using a popular set of new smartphone applications like Hipstamatic or Instagram. The photos (like the one above) immediately caused a feeling of nostalgia and a sense of authenticity that digital photos posted on social media often lack. Indeed, there has been a recent explosion of retro/vintage photos. Those smartphone apps have made it so one no longer needs the ravages of time or to learn Photoshop skills to post a nicely aged photograph.

In this essay, I hope to show how faux-vintage photography, while seemingly banal, helps illustrate larger trends about social media in general. The faux-vintage photo, while getting a lot of attention in this essay, is merely an illustrative example of a larger trend whereby social media increasingly force us to view our present as always a potential documented past. But we have a ways to go before I can elaborate on that point (see parts II and especially III of this essay). Some technological background is in order. (more…)