Last week I ate dinner with a food blogger. As each dish arrived at our table it was carefully organised and presented, resulting in some rather lovely photos:
It was however quite a stressful experience, and not just because I was starving and the food smelt amazing, but because in that minute the value of the moment wasn’t in the beautiful setting, or the delicious food, but how well those things were translated onto social media. At least we didn’t go as far as some of our friends who went for dinner at Catit in Tel Aviv, a restaurant that has pioneered instagrammable plates (yes, really, click the link if you don’t believe me!).
I shouldn’t be surprised, there’s a wealth of aids out there to assist in producing the perfect image for the internet’s consumption. It’s not just plates, its mini flash bulbs and soft-focus filters for mobile phone lenses, hundreds of photo editing apps and companies who specialise in cleaning up your online reputation. Some of this is as old as time, makeup, reputation management and the like existed before the internet, but the ubiquitousness and time that is invested in it is something novel and still quite bizarre to me.
Obsessive curation/focus on presentation does make sense, as Hannah Arendt (quoted by danah boyd) observed, “everything that appears in public can be seen and heard by everybody and has the widest possible publicity.” The internet stretches the notion of widest possible publicity beyond anything Arendt could’ve conceived and so public behaviour which was once confined to traditional public spaces now enjoys few of those boundaries. Thus, as I started to observe in my last post, the expectation of some of the protections afforded by un-recorded or more intimate moments no longer necessarily applies.
The price for nearly always needing to behave online in a way that presupposes the widest possible audience (even if steps are taken by moderating privacy settings etc to try and mange this) is a loss of either candour or the creation of parallel or detached identities. danah boyd observes teenagers creating coded language and second profiles to either hide in plain sight, or to satisfy the needs of multiple audiences. Whilst this works for teenagers, my anecdotal experience tells me that for my peer group (the tail end of the millenial generation) don’t modulate their behaviour in such a way. Some of my friends, mainly doctors and teachers, have opted for code names on social media, but the majority choose to use more private networks e.g. whatsapp and snapchat for the ‘good stuff’ (i.e. salacious gossip) and heavily moderate what is displayed on their social media. Whilst functional, I notice that it creates partial identities, that can appear to be a full self to a casual observer and that can obscure some of the relationship building potential of social media as someone’s real experience of life and that which they project can rapidly become disjointed.