Like Me. A simple exploration into Idenity through Social Media

Let me bore you with the statistics, looking through the AMPLI (Australian Mobile Phone Lifestyle Index) report we see that the smart phone market is approximately 80% of the respondents and looks to grow to over 84% by the end of 2013. The figures that really hit home are the use of social media via smart phone has increased from 32% in 2009 to a whopping 61% in 2012. What seems worse is L23% of users check their social media more than 5 times a day (Mackay, 2012). These figures are staggering.

Looking straight at the smart phone, a majority of the population now have a digital camera at the ready to record any form of event they deem appropriate. Turning this ever so easily accessible camera on the self, has given the world an immediate way of chasing acceptance from peers or popularity from those around them through Social Networking sites. These new digital snapshots are both more intimate and mundane than early personal photography. We are sharing the experience; memory; and identity with the world immediately (Palmer, 2010) then sit with baited breath for a response.

The need for ‘friends’ and chasing ‘likes’ has increased to a point where our social interactions seem to stem directly through our mobile devices. We have become disconnected from each other to such a point; there is a need to put social media in-between ourselves and the world. It has taken over and the idea that we can change our identity ever so slightly for our online lives intrigues me.

Why is it necessary to modify the self for mass online consumption? Why isn’t the real self good enough and why do we make an altered identity for everyone to view?

We have this ability now through many different electronic ways to smooth ourselves over, and change the way we are accepted into this world. We can change our style, persona, even gender to fit a new way of being digested into the machine. The social media machine has redirected the way we interact. The idea of messaging, email, text, video, photograph, and status update remove some of that human interaction we have always seemed to have and the electronic vibration of instantaneous platitudes has taken over to a major degree.

With almost 98% of 18-24 year olds using some form of social media, and 150 million active users accessing FaceBook through a mobile device, what chance do we have of face to face interactions between people? Remember the good old days when you went out into the public domain to meet people?

Many would say our world has changed to the point where the online ‘self’ is just as important as the real ‘self’; even though they are two very different types of the same person or persona. Not the real ‘me’, just a ‘me’ I would really like to be. Or better yet, a ‘self’ I can regulate and change to fit the ‘self’ I never will be.

Social Media has given people a new voice and a means to change their identity ever so slightly, so a new representation of them can be seen and heard. There has been an idea that ‘social network spaces are not simply representational spaces: they are performance spaces. They are constructed social and relational spaces where identity is created, and where, above all, ‘we act’ (Mazali, 2011)’. Just look at Second Life. This space was created for us to exist in a world where we don’t have to be our real self at all. We can make and create an avatar (Oxford Dictionaries) that is any form of representation of any self I wish to embellish or try out. Second Life is ‘a place for many people to experiment with different personas and challenges traditional understandings of identity.’ (Liao, 2008). These lives we can now lead in complete digital form beg us to ask the question of a ‘Self’ identity and the adaptation of the ‘Digital Self’ identity and how they differ. These avatars that we create into digital form have identity but no real body (Liao, 2008), yet we give these creations so many of our hidden and desired ideologies, they exist in a voyeuristic way to do our bidding when we could never see ourselves involved in the same predicament. They will never really exist, and hiding in their shadows is a place we can live and explore new identities. These new pantheons of self exploration and cutting edge social interaction spaces give us the chance to be a new person. We can act however we want, and when we are finished just turn off the power, the act can stop with reality enveloping us again.

Clearly the still photograph can be used as one of the easiest ways of recording and spreading our identity in almost every form. Be it online or print; camera or smart phone; we are able to share our image in any way we choose with the microcosm of our networked ‘friends’ or virally through social media outlets like Instagram.

But the look of portraying the self has changed so much. This new phenomenon of the ‘selfie’ clearly and succinctly shows our need for instant gratification.

Olympia Nelson believes that ‘social networks not only breed narcissistic tendencies but transform relations into a sexual rat race.’ (Nelson, 2013). These wonderfully simple shots of boys and girls, men and women, stripped half naked for the world to see with smart phone in hand. A quick Google search will give you page after page of photos of a similar ilk. How can an 11 year old girl see this idea of the online image and identity as something to be wary of? ‘I like your form but I’m able to scorn you. You’re what I want but you’re less than me.’ (Nelson, 2013) This battle for identity and how we look at our own identity has changed.

Identity; yours; mine; ours; has been placed in a state of flux.

Hippolyte Bayard shot what could be argued as the first Self-Portrait. ‘Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man’ (fig: 1) was shot in 1840 and represents Bayard as dead, slumped in a corner with a few props. I read that the image is a representation of Bayard ‘driven to drown himself by the failure of the French authorities to officially recognize his discoveries in photography’ (Bright, 2010). Even in 1840 the self was portrayed as an ‘other’ or ‘object’.

Why can’t we just be ourselves, or does this scare us more than anything? Having the ability to hide behind a creation or representation alters our identity to a point we can be an anything and everything at the same time. I can be me; or a representation of a me; and still not be the true me.

This re-occurring theme appears in so many works, but I would argue none better than Danny Treacy. His ‘Them’ series (fig: 2) shows a true construction of the other that was wrapped around the self. Treacy clearly exists in this series as we can see him striking a pose spilling out from the dark background, but is it really him? His identity is completely hidden with a construction of garments that he wears as a skin, removing gender and identity completely. His images don’t talk of the self as we know it, but of a more complex version of where the self is located and can it be completely removed (Bright, 2010).

I have talked of the ‘other’ and different versions of identity so what if we saw someone that was an ‘other’ and alternate identity all in one vessel.

Shigeyuki Kihara fits not only the role, but explores the roles of identity and gender to a point; like Danny Treacy; we question everything we see and how we see it. There is a term used through Pacific Island culture which refers to transgender boys called ‘Fa’ a fafine’. Kihara shoots a set of three images in Fig: 3 where he appears to have been placed into a Goya painting. The images show Kihara in different forms of undress, in Colonial tradition; the ‘native woman’ is shown reclining on a couch topless in a grass skirt. Kihara uses the slow reveal showing his penis in the last frame to reinforce that we are never who we think we are. Are we shocked when we see the last image, or do we see the transformation of her/his identity right before our very eyes?

The images we create for mass public consumption are a mix of our self and our other, a hybrid of identity. Part what we see, and part how we want to be seen. There is thought to be ‘FaceBook’ fake-ness in our personal imagery today where we see ourselves in a single perspective and overly happy. At arm’s length (Bright, 2010), we are able to change the perception and representation of ourselves at an instant and share it with the world, and that scares me more than anything.

Bibliography

(n.d.). Retrieved 09 2013, 30, from Oxford Dictionaries: http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/avatar?q=avatar

Bright, S. (2010). Auto Focus The Self-Portrait In Contemporary Photography. London: Thames and Hudson.

Liao, C. L. (2008, March). Avatars, Second Life, and the New Media Art: The Challenge for Contemporary Art Education. Art Education , 87-91.

Mackay, D. M. (2012). Australian Mobile Phone Industry Lifestyle Index. Sydney: Mobile Industry Group.

Mazali, T. (2011). Social Media as the New Public Sphere. Leonardo , 44 (3), 290-291.

Nelson, O. (2013, July 11). Dark Undrcurrents of teenage girls’ selifeis. Retrieved August 2013, 5, from The Sydney Morning Herald: http://www.smh.com.au/action/printArticle?id=4559745

Palmer, D. (2010). Emotional Archives Online photo sharing ans the cultivation of the self. Photographies , 3 (No.2), 155-171.

Fig: 1

Hippolyte Bayard, ‘Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man’, 1840

http://www.flickr.com/photos/uwe_kulick/galleries/72157631825995989

Fig: 2

Danny Treacy, ‘Them #15’, 215cm x 178cm, 2005

Fig: 3

Shigeyuki Kihara, ‘Fa’ a fafine: In a Manner of a Woman’, 2005

One thought on “Like Me. A simple exploration into Idenity through Social Media

  1. Some excellent thoughts here on the idea of identity. I posted similar ideas here: http://sjp.id.au/thoughts/relationship-intimate-web-social-media/
    In the context of personal identity, the web allows us to play with our own identity in real time and project it into a virtual world inhabited by other constructed identities. In the end, the web is simply another layer of reality where our ‘real’ self is reformed both deliberately by us, and also by corporate digital interests.

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