“Resolutions? ME??”

One of the focuses of chapter one–on God and relationships with God–caught me off guard somewhat, since we have not really tackled the subject within this class much as well as DH101 (except for last week when we spoke about Muslim Rage–although that still was more of a media-centered conversation). I have read a lot of Christian literature that resembles the ideas that Rettberg presented. I have often heard in order to experience growth it is necessary to reflect on the self as a whole, rather than solely the good or bad things, therefore, the concept of keeping a journal for confessional purposes rang somewhat familiar to me. One time, I heard a speaker mention that mega-church pastor Joel Osteen says that it is good to keep a diary of all the good things people say to you or about you and forget all the bad things. I understand the reasoning for something like this, although I believe we should not have these types of “filters” (like Rettberg mentioned in chapter two) on ourselves.

Calvin-and-resolutions-300x228I found this Calvin and Hobbes comic that helps illustrate my idea further; Calvin sees himself as perfect and in no need of change. I think we can all agree that we are not perfect and that we all could improve in at least one way or another in our life. I apologize if I am sounding preachy in this post, but I believe the idea of looking at ourselves with #nofilter is very important. Most of us can probably testify that we have either taken a selfie or edited a picture of us to make us look better than we may actually appear–no one takes low angle shots for a reason. This all relates to an idea we have touched on in class discussion about how we display the best version of ourselves. But is this “best version” of ourselves truthful? Or is it no version at all?

Hashtag UnFiltered

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A 2014 study conducted by social media marketing company, Spreadfast in partnership with Instagram owner Facebook, found that 11% of #NoFilter tagged photos on Instagram were actually filtered. That equated to about 8.6 million duplicitously hashtagged pictures. Photos as mundane and innocuous as hair buns or Starbucks coffee cups and countless selfies and sunsets were all published by users with the purposely deceitful tag. Insta-frauds favorite mode of #NoFilter filter was the Amaro setting(% 15), a filter that slightly weakens the center of the photo while increasing exposure that results in extra light and a stylish vintage look to the photo that is really quite noticeably different than unprocessed pics. The “epidemic” is so out of control there’s even a website dedicated to fishing out sham unfiltered photos called FakerCatcher where you paste the photos URL in and voila, there’s your proof, list of filter use and all. There’s also a Tumblr account dedicated to the pictures exposed using FakerCatcher called FilterFakers, the site uses the tagline : “…There are obviously a few cheaters out there…that want you to think that their photos just came out that great and you had to believe them- until now”. The site scolds, “Go nuts with Instagram filters just be honest about it” but further down on their About section, we find the advice that only built in Instagram filters can be detected and if you want to cheat use apps like Camera+. It’s ironic they’ve devoted that much time into uncovering “liars” only to offer another avenue for Insta-deceit.
So why do we care so much exactly? Why do we, 8.6 million users, care so much to lie in something as trivial as a hashtag and then simultaneously care enough to find those that lied? In Jill Walker Rettberg’s , the author dives extensively into filters and our fixation on them in social media representations of ourselves. Jill Walker Rettberg describes filters in several different contexts and highlights Instagram filters as a way to “…make our selfies and photos of our everyday life seem unfamiliar, but the filter itself is repeated so often that the defamiliarisation effect wears off and becomes cliché” (Walker Rettberg 26). So is the fraudulent #NoFilter a response to the desire to not be cliché? Obviously it is shallow but is it just a natural progression to what the act of over-processing on social media has done to our acceptance of the actual appearance of ourselves and our surroundings in actual reality? We want to be real but can’t really handle what the real, really looks like. Jill Walker Rettberg writes how selfies can be too raw and too revealing, so simply #NoFilter filters can’t handle the truth. So why do we care when others can’t handle how we handle their representation of the truth on social media? Jill Walker Rettberg also brings up Katie Warfield’s notion that “the outstretched arm of the front facing camera selfie, includes the viewer in a space like a forced embrace with the viewer between the person and camera” (Walker Rettberg 9). Are these lies a violation of the implicit intimacy and trust of a selfie? It is plausible but it’s also laughable, because simply put people are insecure and people lie. 8.6 million people couldn't handle what you thought about the raw footage of their selfie, their Starbucks or their sunset. HASHTAG SAD.

Yet Another Kim Kardashian Post

Let’s admit it—we see Kim Kardashian everywhere. I don’t necessarily like her, her family, or the consequent TV show/product endorsements/anything to do with the Kardashian clan; but like her or not, I’m forced to keep up with this family because of their presence on social media. Deny it all you want, I don’t care, but the fact of the matter is, this woman is probably one of the most successful social media users on the planet. She’s everywhere—and I seriously mean everywhere. Going down her impressive list—28.2 million Twitter followers; 25,176,521 Facebook fans, 25.1 million Instagram followers—having Kardashian-West’s numbers is something that only exists in my dreams (or nightmares; I’m not sure how I’d feel about it, really).

All this being said, my blogpost today is yet another Kim Kardashian post. Although I’m somewhat reluctant to do so because I really don’t like encouraging the pervasive presence of the Kardashians, I stumbled across Kardashian-West’s latest Super Bowl ad for T-Mobile.

The commercial addresses the issue of “lost data,” where cell phone carriers taking away unused data at the end of a customer’s billing period. She reasons with the audience that they should fight back (by switching to T-Mobile) as lost data will result in missed opportunities to see “my make-up, my back hand, my outfits, my vacations, and… my outfits” with each scene showing her taking a selfie. Seeing her social media statistics, this commercial is an effectively comedic way to coerce people into switching wireless providers in order to “save the data” to continue following her every move on social media.

This reminded me of chapter two in Jill Walker Rettberg’s “Seeing Ourselves Through Technology,” where she defines a “neoliberal subject.” A neoliberal subject, in Silicon Valley social media-developers terms, is one who “‘attends to fashions, is focused on self-improvement, and purchases goods and services to achieve “self-realization.” He or she is comfortable integrating market logics into many aspects of life, including education, parenting, and relationships. In other words, the ideal neoliberal citizen is an entrepreneur’.” If a neoliberal subject were to win a “best and most” category in their high school yearbook, they would win “most likely to succeed in social media, most likely to gain followers on Twitter and most likely to have their Facebook posts filtered into your newsfeed.” In this respect, Kim Kardashian-West qualifies as a neoliberal subject.

Still, with all that being said, I still hate Kim Kardashian-West. I’m just so sick of seeing her on my social media feeds; but hey, the exact reason why I hate her is what makes her successful.

The Image: Reinforcing Social Hierarchies?

In Jill Rettberg’s “Seeing Ourselves Through Technology” she discusses, in great detail, the affordances that come with living in a world so invested in digital and online technologies as a means of social communication. The way in which Jill discusses these affordances is very, in my opinion, optimistic. She takes a more historical approach and describes the ways in which various forms of technology or technology driven forms of representation have always battled with affordances, whether they are cultural, genre, or aesthetically related. In the example Jill uses, the initial racial injustices that resulted from the advent of analog film, she cites the racially complex nature of the first film developed. This affordance of the early stages of analog photography and its racial ignorance points to the cyclical and reoccurring process in which humans ignorantly or unknowingly interact with technology before overcoming these sorts of hurdles.

These affordances, as discussed in the reading, can be associated with the inherent structural qualities present in the technological device and the response of the individual. What is of equal interest to me is the way in which various cultures or communities react to technological advancements in the way they perceive and interact with or use certain devices. A very present topic of discussion is the image, as an all-accessible tool and how its accessibility is affecting cultural and industrial hierarchies in the Western world. Since all individuals have been empowered with the ability to take and edit a photo to have it appear to be on a professional level, it’s exciting to predict the various ways in which sectors of capitalist America and Europe, that are heavily reliant on the image and its social power, will respond. Since the image has become almost entirely democratized, how will companies assert their social power and dominance? I believe that the image is a very powerful political tool, along with its increased use and accessibility it can empower marginalized people and deter injustice.

But, as I said in an earlier post, the world’s inability to properly read photographs can be understood as a factor that reinsures this uneven balance of capitalist power and still allows the image to become a symbol of power and social hierarchy. The power dynamic has only become more subtle.

Week 4: To Filter or Not to Filter, That is the Question

I found Rettberg’s multi-faceted definition of ‘filter’ to be extremely intriguing and dynamic. On the surface, our society sees filters as a kind of ‘net’ to capture impurities. In technology, a filter is used in a very similar way to metaphorically remove search content that is irrelevant depending upon the specific keywords and phrases searched. In an exclusively social media reference, a filter is a tool used to add or subtract certain light colorations to your images to enhance the appeal of user photos. Despite the abundance of valid definitions for this term, I find the most important definition to be related to a sociotechnical aspect of our societies. Cultural filters are quite possibly the most important filters to recognize, because they help determine the norms and customs of a society. In turn, abiding by these rules helps users gain more likes, followers and favorites. For example, in my community of UCLA students, we find it out-of-the-norm to post Instagrams more than once every few days. The individuals who decide to break this social norm are seen as undesirable or like-hungry.

Instagram filters have been steadily declining in popularity as they have became too obvious and recognizable to users. In a Business Insider article that was posted at the beginning of the year, it reported that the new social norm is to not apply filters to images because it was the ‘uncool’ thing to do. Further analysis on this idea, combined with my experience and social participation in this group of millennials reveals that adding filters can seem like the user is trying too hard to fit in by making their photo as worthy to their followers as possible. From this, an emerging normality in the social media world is the use of the hashtag #nofilter and VSCO Cam. Despite the the dated popularity of using filters to enhance images, many millennials take pride in their budding photography skills and make it known to their followers that their image wasn’t enhanced with a filter, to show the natural beauty of the image. Another emerging technology is the VSCO Cam app. This app uses lighter filter options to add an old fashion filmy quality to photos to make it seem like the user isn’t overdoing it with lights and coloring additions, as seen below.

vsco-cam-xl

 

Week Four: “Why Don’t I Look Like Her?”

In Seeing Ourselves Through Technology: How We Use Selfies, Blogs and Wearable Devices to See and Shape Ourselves, Jill Walker Rettberg discusses the various ways technology shapes our vision of ourselves and of others. In her chapter “Filtered Reality,” Rettberg focuses on the term filter and explores the ways filters are used within social media. Rettberg explains there are both technological filters and cultural filters. Technological filters “allow us to express ourselves in some ways but not in others,” and are similar to affordances that all technologies have (23). Cultural filters are “the rules and conventions that guide us, [which] filter out possible modes of expression so subtly that we are often not aware of all the things we do not see” (24). How people represent themselves cannot be done “without using or adapting, resisting and pushing against filters that are already embedded in…culture, whether these filters are technological or cultural.”

Rettberg shows that “individual devices have technological filters that are themselves influenced by cultural filters” and discusses the app SkinneePix, which lets the user take selfies that make them appear thinner by ‘removing’ up to 15lbs from the image. Rettberg details this as an example of “how we are aware that technology filters our visual representations” (28). I found this example interesting because it highlights the cultural ideal of thinness that is so prevalent within our culture. SkinneePix’s website is http://prettysmartwomen.com/skinneepixapp/, which name itself shows that prevalent culture only sees thin women as pretty and smart, also states: “SkinneePix helps you edit your Selfies to look 5, 10 or 15 lbs. healthier in two quick clicks on your phone. It’s easy. It’s simple. It’s fun. Share them with your friends immediately. SkinneePix makes your photos look good and helps you feel good.” Again, the use of words in this blurb is telling. By using the word “healthier,” this app implies the thinner you are, the healthier you are, which cannot be further from the truth.

This small example shows a larger cultural theme at play in our society: how you look is the most important thing. In the article “‘Why Don’t I Look Like Her?’: How Instagram Is Ruining Our Self Esteem,” author Olivia Fleming discusses how Instagram is changing how many woman see themselves in relation to other woman. One model interviewed, who helped put together the un-airbrushed 2014 charity calendar says, “[Instagram] is so much scarier than magazines. At least most people realize that magazines and campaigns have been airbrushed. But young girls are looking at selfies on Instagram and they’re not realizing that some people are using apps to totally change what they look like.” This trend enables social media to have more of a “detrimental impact to the body image concerns of college aged women than advertising or the media generally.” While it is true social media is shaped by both technological and cultural filters, it is important to note when these filters begin to impact the real world, and real peoples perceptions of themselves in negative ways.

Week 4: Celebrities Online

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As Jill Walker Rettberg’s book, Seeing Ourselves Through Technology, mentioned, celebrities tend to have more liberty when it comes to self-expression and self-representation online. And though that might be, I think we can agree that doesn’t mean it holds true for every celebrity. Many celebrities claim that they use social media as a way to connect with their fans. As they post “every-day life” photos, it shows followers how human a celebrity is, and how they’re “just like us”.

I wrote “just like us” in quotes because I don’t mean to say that these celebrities are not, but there’s definitely a different way society perceives someone whose life and career is already so public. I think fans are still primarily “readers of text”, a term Rettberg used in the People or Text? section in Chapter 1. There are still few celebrities who actively engage with their followers by replying to comments and taking part in conversations online. They continually post, and their fans continually like, comment, double tap, retweet, favorite, repost, etc. Even I take part in this. I enjoy following my favorite celebrities on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. It really is interesting to see how they live their day-to-day life and keep up with their lastest projects. There’s a particular admiration we hold for these celebrities, which is why we follow them.

But what happens when celebrities post something they normally wouldn’t or, more importantly, “shouldn’t”? As an audience, it is not uncommon for us to be judgmental of what is posted. We still have a right to decipher what is acceptable for certain people to share. This was an issue quite some time before, but former-actress Amanda Bynes comes to mind. She used to have her own TV show on Nickelodeon and often played roles with the “good-girl” image. Then she began tweeting things considered rude or unladylike. She was highly criticized and many of her fans growing up found themselves asking, “What happened to her?”. She is not the only female celebrity to get in trouble for what she posts. From Miley Cyrus to Kim Kardashian, there are a number of celebrities online who continually receive high criticism because they aren’t representing themselves on social media as how society expects them. I agree with Rettberg that this is true. Society has expectations for women and how they present themselves online. If they don’t follow, then we’re led to judge them for their so-called “poor social media choices.”

On Filter Bubbles

One of my favorite books about Internet culture is The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser, which was published in 2011. In the book, Pariser discusses the algorithms search engines like Google, social networking sites like Facebook, and other websites use in order to personalize an individual user’s experience. Google, for example, guesses what search result would be most relevant to you based on your search history, your browsing history, your location, and other idiosyncratic factors, meaning that the search results you get might be vastly different from what a different user with a different background might receive.

This is, ostensibly, pretty great–after all, who wants to sift through a bunch of irrelevant search results before they find the website that they’re actually looking for? Who wants look at boring photos on their Facebook feed when all they really care about are Buzzfeed quizzes and news articles? The use of these algorithms help to tailor our experience of these websites in a way that makes them more useful to us.

However, the application of these filters enable Internet companies to collect information about your browsing habits in order to target advertising. They see you frequently like Upworthy videos that show up on your Facebook timeline, so they make sure those videos appear more often…and also display ads about charitable donations and “socially conscious” companies. They notice that you tend to Google the lyrics to Top 40 pop songs, so they make sure that lyrics (as opposed to Wikipedia articles or music news sites) floats to the top of your search results…and also display ads about local concerts and newly released albums.

However, even more insidious than the advertising is the construction of “filter bubbles”: users get less exposure to conflicting viewpoints and end up being ideologically isolated within their own information bubble. A liberal and a conservative Googling the exact same event end up getting vastly different search results (say, searching for a specific news story and getting either MSNBC or Fox News depending on your past browsing history), which only serves to reinforce previously held convictions and removes opportunities for civic discourse. Or, as Pariser put it:

A world constructed from the familiar is a world in which there’s nothing to learn … (since there is) invisible autopropaganda, indoctrinating us with our own ideas.

Research has demonstrated that individuals who only associate with people who agree them become more extreme in their beliefs and values than they would be if they were exposed to a diverse array of ideologies–and if you look at research on the increased political polarization of US society, that definitely seems to hold true: over the past 10 years, the number of people who lie on either extreme end of the political spectrum has vastly outstripped the number of moderates. To put it differently, Republicans are becoming increasingly more conservative while Democrats are becoming ever more liberal.

The filtered nature of our virtual reality is vastly impacting the political structure of our society, and I’m not so sure that that’s a good thing.

Week 4: Selfies Can Be Good Things?

Rettberg’s Seeing Ourselves Through Technology: How We Use Selfies, Blogs, and Wearable Devices to See and Shape Ourselves, really resonates with the idea of identity in the Internet-driven times of today. Self-representation through blogs, tweets, status updates, and selfies permeate within most of our social media lives. Does that mean we are conceited or narcissistic? Are we too self-absorbed to an extent that it can be seen as harmful?

Many criticize the modern trends of self-representation through social media. I’ve had friends who don’t use Twitter because, from their understanding and perspective, it is a media platform that is arrogant in the sense that you are posting unimportant updates on your own life. “What do you even tweet about? Who cares what you’re doing at this particular moment or what happened to you?” Another form of media self-representation that takes a lot of criticism is the selfie, which Retteberg dedicates a whole chapter on.  Taking multiple photos of oneself and posting them on a public forum seems like the ultimate vehicle of vanity or conceit.  Because of such a reputation, as Ratterburg discusses, there is much disdain toward selfie-taking in pop culture, especially among young women who are deemed as the “stereotypical selfie takers”. This “selfie hate,” as Rattberg coins it, is ever-prominent in this society, yet the phenomenon continues to grow.  But why? Is there any good that can come out of all this public sharing of one’s self?

I came across an article on Elite Daily entitled, “Why This Generation’s Obsession with Selfies Isn’t Really a Bad Thing?” and I felt that it was an interesting counterpoint to much of the negative discourse we hear on this subject. It discusses many of the positive points of selfies, including selfies as confidence boosters, ways to save memories, and ways to see change over time (which relates to Rettberg’s discussion on the time-lapse selfie method). In any case, the author tries to spin much of the negative discussion around and find some of the positives that come along with this trend. As Rettberg expresses, this kind of self-representation stems from a history of diary writing and other tools of self-reflection, which don’t come with as negative a connotation as a selfie or status update.

Me, personally, I’m not one to take many selfies on my own to post publicly through social media. Maybe it’s because I haven’t mastered the art of taking them from the right angle with the right lighting or I’m just not comfortable with posting them because of the whole selfie hate that, admittedly, I engage in sometimes. Yet, I have plenty of friends who take selfiesoften and are totally comfortable. I even have one from high school who created a whole separate Instagram account that chronicled one selfie of hers per day for a whole year, as a personal goal to see how much she changed over the course of that much time. Although I may not visually post selfies all the time, I am a frequent Twitter user and I post random happenings of my life on the daily. Different ways of being self-absorbed? To each their own, I guess.

 

That awkward moment when your date doesn’t look like his Tinder profile picture

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(Tinder booty shorts circa 2014)

Rettberg’s Seeing Ourselves Through Technology, Chapter 3: Serial Selfies stuck out to me this week, since I was curious to see how such an informal and colloquial thing like the selfie would manifest itself in academia and theoretical readings. The discussion of profile photos as personal identity and identification with groups was nothing new, but it became interesting to consider in the context of the popular dating app Tinder. For instance, I noticed guys use Red Solo Cups as a symbol of their willingness to partake in underage drinking, and group photos to show their social side while trying to divert the attention of the viewer from their unattractive selves to their attractive friends. I swipe left immediately on both occasions.

My roommate is an avid Tinder user and reading Rettberg’s article also immediately made me recall one of her many dates she recounted to me. She was basically upset because she met up with a guy who looked nothing like his Tinder profile picture- read: he looked something like it, but he was hairier and fatter and way less cut. She said she tried to be nice about it, but she was really super mean and told him she wanted to end the date right there and then because she was so disappointed in how he looked. He apologized and asked if he could make it up to her over dinner but she was bent on leaving and actually got up and left. She emphasized that it was not so much the fact that he looked bad, but that she had showed up reasonably expecting him to look good, that really disappointed her.

Given our implicit awareness and practice of filtered reality, I was curious to know why she felt that way, and why I felt that same sense of disgust after listening to her story. How dare he deceive her into thinking he was someone better than he actually was! Did he not think she would notice, or that she would care? Since people are expected, and certainly do try to make themselves look better online (be it through technological or cultural filters), why was there the expectation that someone look just as good in real life as they do online? Isn’t the point of social media to make yourself look better in virtual space? My immediate response is to say that online representations must have sufficient reality, though some glorification is still bearable. The fact that Tinder is a dating app does, however, have more responsibility for accurate representation attached to it.

On another note, the way that Tinder has restructured the presentation of content is interesting. Tinder differs from the typical timeline or feed based buffet of information- instead, we are presented with one picture/ profile at a time, and are forced to make a judgment call on the person before we can move to the next one. Since we are not given information in a continuous stream, I’m curious to know if this signals a newer cultural trend that is moving away from chronological narrative to random spurts of information, or fragments of information on the basis of preference. Though this certainly does not reflect any narrative time progression, it reflects in a progression in our judgments of people. This is so significant, in fact, that friend of mine (who was a product intern at Tinder) told us how they would create fake profiles just to see what qualities or features in men would result in girls being more likely to swipe right on them.