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New Media Provide New Spaces for Self-Representation

Essay by   •  January 22, 2018  •  Research Paper  •  2,825 Words (12 Pages)  •  583 Views

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Choose some specific visual practice or set of interlinked visual practices that centrally involve ‘new media’ and discuss in relation to ONE of the following quotes:

1) New media provide new spaces for self-representation.

“Do you sometimes look up from the computer and look around the room and know you are alone, I mean really know it, then feel scared?”

― Tao Lin, Shoplifting from American Apparel

The rise of Facebook as a social media monolith poses profound questions for anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists alike. In the article, entitled An Extreme Reading of Facebook,[1] Daniel Miller proposes that in many ways, Facebook can be view as a “meta-bestfriend”, one that we can turn to “when we are feeling lonely, depressed or bored, when life seems to have less purpose than usual”. The same can be said of many other social media sites, such as Tumblr, Snapchat, Instagram, Wechat, VK, and so on. Yet, above and beyond the satiation of innate human needs, Facebook and other social media sites have also been studied as spaces where the reality of the self is being performed and reified. Important questions must therefore be asked. How do we properly conceptualize these spaces of self-representation? What are some of the logics underpinning these spaces? What kinds of socio-economic relations are they determined by? What do concepts such as “online persona” or “online presence”, tell us about the politics of personhood, self-representation and identity in the age of digital media? This essay will attempt to argue that each site, each app, web-app, platform or forum, are socially implicated spaces of self-representation that - while not entirely unique - present us with their own distinctive logics governing behaviour. I will attempt to show that perhaps one of the best ways to analytically conceptualize these spaces will be from the angle of field theory, as postulated by Bourdieu. Within these social fields,[2] we shall see that self-representation is simply one of the many functions of the social space. Each field has its own logics governing behavior, and factors that influence these logics can range from observable surface characteristics (the user-interface of an app), to non-observable “behind-the-scenes” hardcoded logic (algorithms), to cultural factors (the demographics of the users). Certain types of expressions get translated easier than others into visibility, which ought to be conceptualized as a form of meta-currency within digital social fields. It shall be argued, finally, that mass behaviour on social media profoundly advance weak[3] theories of the self, such as theories of performativity, Mead’s social self,[4] and derivatives of role theory (Goffman)[5].

When we talk about new spaces of self-representation, we are essentially speaking of the additional dimensions that media add to our lives. As Mark Deuze[6] notes, in his article You are not Special (2011), our lives so deeply fused with media that they can be said to be lived in rather than with, or alongside, media. Within specific demographics, where social media has become interwoven into the very fabric of individuals’ lives, it is worth noting that the nature of social relations formed within digital social fields will always be dependent upon the logics that dominate these digital social fields. (For convenience’s sake, I will refer to websites, apps, web-apps, forums, and social media networks, simply as sites for this essay;  “sites” not as in a website, but more in a scientific sense, as in “sites” of research, sites of practice. The reason why this word is preferred is because it conjures a spatial imagery that is helpful when applying a Bourdieuian interpretation to digital social fields.) According to Bourdieu, a social field is a social space in which interactions, transactions and events occur.[7] It is worth noting that within the broader context of Bourdieu’s sociology, each individual has a relative position within the social field given differences in the amounts of economic, social and cultural capital they possess. Fields have their own “unwritten rules”, or “exchange rates”, that determine how certain actions, ideologies, relationships are valued. All possible social action, thus, ought be measured against the standards of the social field.

In the context of digital cultures, we can see how every individual platform, app, website, or forum can be conceived of as a particular social field; and, because of their differing logics, different forms of expressions are valued differently across platforms. Behaviors encouraged by Facebook might not translate into as much “social capital” (if we think of “likes” as social capital) when performed on other sites, such as Snapchat or Instagram. Selfies taken on Instagram immediately assume a form that is significantly different in meaning from selfies taken on Snapchat, precisely because the logics of the fields are different. Daniel Miller has noted, for examples, that “uglies” survive better in Snapchat than in Instagram (Miller, 2014). He has also noticed how the internal logics of Facebook positions itself as a space that allows the witnessing of suffering (Miller 2014) - something that would never happen on Snapchat. A lot has to do with the issue of permanence, formality, and “implicatedness” on our real lives. Snapchat, as Miller observes[8], with its filters and emojis and its 10-second lifespan, is a social field that discourages seriousness. Facebook, on the other hand, is more permanent. Not only is it tied up to one’s real life in very real ways ( like how career counsellors will warn you that that potential employers will stalk your Facebook before hiring you), it acts as the public representation of yourself, much more permanent than, say, a real life appearance at a social event. The ability for Facebook to tag you in pictures (even against your wishes), to locate you within a specific geography and network, to check yourself into places, enables it to function as the mainstream platform of collective memory making. Differences in logics - read: algorithms, interface, technical infrastructure - between different sites thus create a host of additional cultural products and social functions unique to each site itself.

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