No matter how much we gnash our teeth, the selfie is here to stay. It is part of our culture and this is not necessarily a bad thing. However, there is no doubt that caution must be exercised. If we document every single moment in real time (and on top of that add filters), can we say that we are fully experiencing life? Spontaneity and serendipity are wonderful things and we should hold them dear.
The Chainsmokers’ 2014 #SELFIE song and video reflect how selfies are part of the literal beat of our lives. Every experience seems to be accounted for with an appropriately ironic hashtag (I remember when it was just the pound sign). Again, I use the term everyone very loosely here. This is just the dominant perspective that I have observed. There are important alternative selfies that exist and that we have even engaged in during class (“Around the World in 80 Tweets”)! This was a true moment for connection, collaboration and increasing our wealth of knowledge.
Alternative narratives such as the “Awake” project, in which artist Christina Balch took an unfiltered photo of herself every morning upon opening her eyes for two years, are very powerful. She challenges notions of conventional female beauty and aging. Her project is a statement in which she literally flips the gender script we often see in selfies (think Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner). *Citation- I found this artist’s project upon looking at the sources for Dr. Zamora’s #SelfieUnselfie project.*
Privacy is also an important concern when posting selfies, given that people often simultaneously “check in” at their locations and post photos (with the plates!) of their new cars. I’m always the nerdy friend that calls them and says, hi, you should get rid of that. And most of the time, they see that being a completely open book in the technological realm is not a safe option.
In terms of self-representation, we present ourselves to each other in face-to-face connections in various ways, which are planned (Erving Goffman 1959). We do the same thing in our social media. It is also important to realize, as Walker Rettberg explains in her 2018 SAGE article, that self-representation is often ritualized/staged. Her example of Kendall Jenner’s 2015 most-liked Instagram “corpse bride” photo is an example. Despite having an aversion to the Kardashianization/Jennerization of our culture, I can see the artistic value of her photo. It was quite beautiful and it was captioned with a sideways black heart icon, which alludes to a dark twist. I really see how she could be Ophelia, as described by the author (although it was doubtful she was contemplating of Hamlet when she posted, yes, I am being judgmental). Additionally, I think it was very interesting that shortly after the post and her 3.5M likes, Jenner posted “Take That!” as a response to Kimye’s (Kim and Kanye) wedding photo (also extremely well-liked) by the Instagram public. It was a “battle” of the #Selfies in the pop culture realm (it’s all just for ratings whispers a dark figure in the corner of my kitchen).
The Kardashians and Jenner women don’t purport to be something that they are not. Their entire money-making machine is based upon the series “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” What bothers me is when I see my friends and acquaintances blatantly misrepresenting things such as childhood. It isn’t all rosy cheeks and dimples. Children cry and they don’t comply on command; no Pavlovian response can be replicated with them. It is a rare occurrence to see fussy, unkempt babies on Facebook and other social media. I do have 2 friends that actually visually represent the challenges and rewards (cries and smiles) of parenthood. The author’s earlier piece “Filtered Reality” specifically points to the fact that Facebook leans towards filtering only the “feel good” moments. She even mentioned an experiment in which the more positive comments that were viewed by members, the more positive posts were generated, in turn. I think it is important to remember that there is no dislike button on Facebook, just a comic “angry-face” icon. This does not encourage productive social debate. Facebook seems to be synonymous with fluff and it doesn’t have to be, does it?
Walker Rettberg also examines self-representation in her discussion of online blogging. I found one of her statements to be extremely profound. She said that it is often through blogging that people develop opinions and identity. Voice. Its crucial importance to writing is precisely what we learned in our final project last semester. Prior to Dr. Zamora’s class, I knew of blogs, but never wrote one. I find that blogging makes me look at the materials we read and our class discussions with a critical lens. And how can we hope to become better educated without being critical?
Another crucial aspect of Jill Walker Rettberg’s work was also made evident to me in “Filtered Reality.” She struck a nerve when she explained that even photojournalism has been filtered so that it may be anesthetizing and have more aesthetic value to viewers. On a very important level, this incenses me. It was only through showing raw footage of the Vietnam War on television and print that people became enlightened and then responded accordingly with protests. I do not want my news to be filtered and yet, I know that it is. So, how do we, as a society, combat this? We vary our diet. We read multiple sources and check journalists’ reliability. It is time-consuming, but news is just another commodity in our world and it often doesn’t matter if it is true, what matters is who gets it online (and in other media) the fastest.
Filtering is also an important aspect of what I call algorithmization. If we have built-in features into our smartphones that track our habits (sleeping, social media use, reading preferences, etc.), our habits are mined for data. What happens? We get fed more of the same. Diversity of opinion is crucial. Even if my opinion on a topic is more or less solidified, I need to see opposing viewpoints. Dissonance is necessary in order to test my beliefs. It is politically necessary to be challenged and I want to see more of that on social media platforms. We can disagree on topics respectfully as we have done in our classes.
A very poignant aspect of “Filtered Reality” is when the author stated that technology drives change. This was seen in the example in which Kodak failed to account for the features of persons of color. People complained and the market responded. Kodak listened. It is very compelling how there was a very explicit white bias in 1950s Kodaklandia and elsewhere.
Selfies and filters are not going anywhere. So why don’t we take the step in turning the camera outward. Let’s observe and drink in the world. Let’s make provocative statements through our use of selfie. Let’s move more from self-absorption to appreciation of the diversity that surrounds us.
See also my PowerPoint slides (which contain other embedded media), which I will be emailing to everyone. Best, Medea.