The Internet offers an assortment of tools specifically designed to help us create a digital impression of who we are. This blog, my Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram accounts – these are some of my vehicles for self-expression. Together, they are able to make up my online identity.
For many, self-expression online – how we use blogs, feeds, selfies and video to see and shape ourselves have fueled the rise of both original content and curation.
1. The written expression.
We write about our lives in blogs or in status updates on our social media profiles like it is a new phenomenon spurred by the digital age. However, these forms of written expression are not new – blog and status updates have been descendants of diaries, memoirs and autobiographies. Centuries before, monks copying manuscripts would often draw small pictures of themselves in their texts and artists would paint their own face on characters in paintings. Even back then, it was normal for people to examine their own consciences and many expressing their thoughts and feelings altering the way many people looked at themselves and the world.
New or old – all these forms carry an expression of a personal experience of life. For instance, I started to blog because I had the intention to write more. To organise my thoughts and ideas especially in a world where we are exposed to increasing amounts of short-form content: from text speak, video GIFs, 140 character Tweets to Vine videos – our appreciation for writing seems to be diminishing. Short form content is here to stay.
So through starting to blog, I set a challenge for my own self-improvement. Blogging would assist me in capturing and telling stories. Sure it was daunting initially, I had never written in a diary before this, but I found blogging to be an important platform to pen down long-form stories. After a few entries, I realised blogging gave me the opportunity to store my voice, a way for me to stand for something. And the more I wrote, the more I started to allow myself to be me in my writing. The process of blogging is like the personal equivalent to big data: I am collecting and analysing information about myself.
2. Curation of the self.
Technology can reflect back to us a version of who we are and sometimes who we want others to perceive us to be. With digital cameras, smart phones and social media it is easier to create and share our self-representations by showing our identity through our record or collections. Whether through re-blogs or retweets on Tumblr or Twitter, by sharing the music we listen to on Spotify in playlists, our pin collections on Pintrest or as automated Facebook updates – digital self-presentation and self-reflection each expresses a micro-narrative, letting certain kinds of content seep through while others are held back. It is when we collect things and when we share those collections with people, that’s how we show who we are in the world.
3. The selfie-nation.
Selfies are descendants of visual artists’ self-portraits dating back to the 15th century, when artists across Europe – most prolifically the German artist Albrecht Dürer and court painters such as Van Dyck started creating works in which they themselves were the main subject. Artists throughout history, whether out of salvation, self-scrutiny or vanity – have captured themselves. Self-portraits have much to say, by showing success or indulging in self-mockery, nonetheless bringing the viewer into contact with the artist’s soul.
For all of us, mirrors had allowed us to see our own reflection, but not to record it. Cameras had allowed us to record our own image, but only until the digital display and front-facing camera of the smartphone was developed that it gave way to how we are represented to a far greater degree. Today, we snap selfies on our phones, post them onto our social media sites – as a form of self-documentation, to log or record moments of our lives which creates a visual narrative of social identities connecting our past to present social selves.
Nonetheless, the ‘selfie’ taken in a split second with a hand-held as we know it and self portraits are two separate, though at times overlapping, efforts at establishing and embellishing a definition of one’s self. The only differentiation is merely superficial – by the selfie’s inherently replaceable and even disposable quality, where self-portraits are often created to be read as art. Selfies are raw and revealing. However, through the application of filters onto images, we are putting a sense of distance – like looking through someone else’s eyes. When we take a selfie through a filter we are seeing ourselves anew – revealed through byte-sized memorable moments while still giving us the aesthetics of the everyday.
4. Video communication and documentation.
On 27 August 2006, Noah Kalina uploaded a video of himself onto YouTube entitled ‘Everyday’. He had been taking daily photos of himself, for nearly six years. During this time, it had only been a little over half a year that YouTube had opened up to the public, but today the site is intensely popular. The video ‘Everyday’ has recorded more than 26 Million views. Digital and social media have magnified the potential for virality, from reaching one to many.
Sometimes we might appreciate being ‘seen,’ but, importantly, self-expressions online allow us to see ourselves. We look at our digital footprints the same way as if we gazed into the mirror wondering who we were and who we might be. The audience for our self-representations is no longer, as a few decades ago, ourselves and each other. Our audience today includes machines. And yet, we continue to seek to express ourselves.
Through technology and the Internet, we no longer need to rely on others to represent us. We represent ourselves. I think we eventually have to evolve into our own voice – and maybe online it just the place to do it, if we haven’t already.