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INSTANT CREATION OF IDENTITY

While we live in the surroundings of non-stop information growth, visual communication plays a crucial role, and the importance of pictorial information expands within our communication patterns. The reason lies in globalization and culture mixes and remixes. There is no need to translate a picture, generally it is more easily understood than textual or verbal message, and the meaning is less determined by locality. Besides that, new media scholars Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin emphasized that visuality is dominating because of the desire for immediacy, saying that the desire for immediacy is apparent in claims and that digital images are more exciting, lively, and realistic than mere text on a computer screen.

 

THE INTERNET GENERATION

Visuality is the main case of the Internet generation and it’s communication habits. It’s the generation that can be also characterized with informed naivety and the absence of critical intelligence. And by that I mean no analytical perspective towards media representations, and seeing the difference between real and the online-created meanings. One can detect also the heavy turn towards myths, consumerism, and individualism. The dominance of personal values and preferences, the new avant-garde, and the lost interest in deconstruction of reality. The objects used and meanings produced are overshadowed by nostalgia.

A person today is more likely to identify himself or herself through images and objects, being first-hand a consumer and representing the self online through the objects consumed and recorded.

Besides that the Internet generation perceives differently time, and different functioning of memory occurs here as well. In his essay “The Millenium, or Suspense of the Year 2000” French cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard states that time no longer counts forward progressively from an origin, it rather starts regressively from the end and that we live in the shadow of some final reckoning.

It is seen in the comeback of different eras, the trend of the 90’s in the clothing styles, music samples and overall imagery. It is the mixture of the old and new, valuing the stories behind vintage objects owned and worn. It is the rise of brands with heritage and their story, the home-grown and home-made, the DIY trend. It’s the whole reconstruction of the history, the meanings and understanding, the perception and the new consumerism.

 

PERCEPTION AND CONSUMPTION

Different perception of time determines different perception of one’s self and others. German sociologist Ulrich Beck has written that huge array of identities with which the modern consumer is currently faced may give rise to a sense of risk and uncertainty.

But these risks can be “managed” by ordering them into coherent “lifestyles” – the subject to various forms of social regulation and also social semiotics.

And today there are more different lifestyles, sub-cultural identities and niche markets than has ever been before.

So if we perceive time differently today and define ourselves through consumption and leisure activities, our identity is diverse and in the constant changing. In the book „Shopping, place and identity“ by Peter Jackson, Michael Rowlands, and Daniel Miller, the shifting nature of personal identities in late modernity has been debated at length. For example authors of this book state that contemporary identities can be theorized through narratives of self-identity that are continually monitored and constantly revised. Identities are seen as plural and dynamic, depending on spaces and places. This conception of identity suits the Internet generation communication patterns described above.

 

THE PROCESS OF (SELF)IDENTIFICATION AND REPRESENTATION

Due to the information overflow and the Internet, the border between decades and styles, values and preferences is blurred. “Everything is allowed” and “Everything is in” sayings are the ones that describe the Internet generation of today. Considering the new self-representations and constructed identities through self-reportage and blogging, there’s an overflow of self-built and controlled online contents, obsessions with autobiography, and statement-based moment shout-outs. Photographic reportage, shifting identities and revision practices, lead me to a strong example – popular online platform Instagram. An app (or computer application) that is designed for users to update their beings and doings, through capturing the moments, filtering them through retro styled photo-layers, and revealing them in online world.

So why? Why to photo-report constantly?

Because seeing is believing. The sound answer that lies in the Arthur Asa Berger’s book “Seeing Is Believing: an introduction to visual communication”. I agree with Berger’s main point, which is about the problem of objectivity. There are too many variables in photography: camera angles, use of light and dark, colours, textures, composition and focus…

One must recognize that a picture is always an interpretation of reality, not reality itself.

Photography, though it is a mechanical process, does not automatically reproduce reality. If talking Instagram, I’d like to take off from Berger’s three points chosen:

1. Evidence and glamorization
There are two extremes between which photography operates. The photos we scroll every day are a stimuli that “activate” our minds by setting off the appropriate responsive chord. These photos exploit what is already in our heads – the cultural lore we have stored up as a result of our education and experiences. Connected with our desires, the photos we see, work as a latent dissatisfaction with ourselves the way we are as our hopes for better self in the future. And so we live our lives, suspended in a sense, between the mug shot of everyday reality and the life of glamour and romance that followed icons and their photo feed promises us.

2. The pose: figure and the ground
Reading photographs correctly requires background information or what might be called in the context of this writing – „consumer cultural literacy“. If you do not recognize, for example, that a trench coat that hangs in the corner of a restaurant has the logo of an expensive British fashion brand, you’ve missed something its owner wanted to convey. In many cases poses are a representation not of a character but rather of a personality. And to be more exact, if a character develops through action, then the term personality comes from a word persona aka the mask. Our personalities are the masks that we present to the world, and the photography of Instagram  one is viewing may be capturing this mask, and not the „real“ self of the stalked one.

What we see, to a great degree, is affected by what we know.

The degree of cultural literacy we have, the extent to which we can understand allusions and references to things, we can evaluate the socio-economic significance of props and objects that our persona represents there.

3. The photograph and narcissism
The photograph is used as a record of our existence and the existence of our loved ones, and the moments we share. But photographs possess an autoerotic element as well. Here I’m talking about the photographs we take of ourselves. There is some measure of consolation in retreating into ourselves, into what might be described as an imagistic form of narcissism. Like Narcissus, the mythological figure who fell in love with his own reflection, our photographs do have a powerful self-referential eroticism about them. We may not go as far as Narcissus, but we do have strong feelings about our image, as presented to us by photographs – the difference between the idealized image of ourselves that we “see” in the mirror vs. the harsh reality of the photograph.

 

If viewing instant photo-production as a discourse, as with any dominant discourse, it has its weaknesses, fissures and challengers.  Sure thing that it’s the opportunity to be different, to paint a lifestyle picture of oneself.  But all in all our digital lives are one of the few areas in which we have the potential to actually curate our selves. We regularly employ observational and ethnographic techniques to unpick the disconnect between what people say, and what they do. Our challenge today, surely, is to understand the foundations needed for new worlds that grow and prosper through the gaps that instant online platforms’ content creates. Enable us to get under the skin of these digital ‘selves’ and understand what people are trying to say and achieve through them.

 

Written by Julia Ahtijainen