Filtering our images and ideas is inevitable, initially because of cultural sensitivities and preconceptions and increasingly, because of technology. As Jill Walker Rettberg puts it, “We filter our images, our email and our newsfeeds.” I think often we see selfies as particularly revealing. I believe that it gives us the chance to filter ourselves and direct the way other people see us, but maybe it’s also about allowing us to see ourselves from a different perspective.
The article makes the case that when you talk about filters in a traditional sense, you are talking about taking things away. However, Rettberg argues that in the case of electronic media, filters can enhance as opposed to taking away. I would argue that’s a distinction without a difference – in all cases, you are trying to add by subtracting, leaving the end product somehow improved due to the filter (either by filtering coffee grinds or filtering impurities from water or filtering unwanted content from email).
Love this by Victor Shklovsky when he wrote that “The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged.” However, I’m not sure this is what Instagram is about. If the idea of some digital media filters is to “enhance” imagery, I’m wondering if the filters are used to get closer to what people believe the “real” essence of their image is. The essential “me” or the essential idea of “family”. In that way, I think they are striving to find something more common to all of us – more inherently familiar, not unfamiliar. In other words, Shklovsky is arguing that the filters create art. I’m not sure that’s what the majority of Instagram users are trying to do.
I thought the photos of head shots were fascinating and went back and looked at both Noah’s and Ahree’s. The idea that her video was less watched because she was female and Asian was interesting but honestly, I found Noah’s a bit more compelling for two other reasons: one was the amount of time covered and two because I could actually see the passage of time (as one commenter put it, “the passage of time is scary, isn’t it?”.
Chapter 2 – Filtered Reality
After reading this chapter I thought it is just fascinating how filters can be so much more than the physical ones like coffee or cigarette filters. The chapter starts by stating “filters can be technological, cultural or cognitive, or they can be a combination of these.” It was interesting to read that Instagram was one of the first sites that popularized filters and now they are everywhere. While by definition filters seem to be a way to remove unwanted data or materials, filters are also used to add certain things like color into an image or flavor like in the case of a coffee filter. This chapter explains that technological filters are those we are able to apply to social media feeds or to blogs. Cultural filters are those norms, rules, or expectations that guide us to express ourselves in different ways. Cognitive filters are those when our body and mind is able to perceive certain things and not others. Often we see a combination of all of these happening or being used all at once.
While technological filters can be seen as a way to enhance the way we express ourselves, these filters also have their limitations. Early on in the chapter we read about baby journals and how these are preformatted to let us know what we are supposed to put into our baby’s journal. These journals can be seen as technological filters. I’ve seen baby journals before and I think they are the cutest thing but since I’m not a mom yet, I never thought deeply about them. The chapter indicates that these baby journals have clear rules as to what should go in them but if we wanted, we could put pictures over the prompts we don’t want to use or we could glue more pages to it. But how can we do this with the many baby journal apps that exist today? Sprout Baby is an app that allows parents to insert pictures of when they are bringing home the baby, baby’s first smile, baby’s first bath amongst others. The app has even clearer rules embedded in it that shows you what is it that you are supposed to add. In this app, you can also track feedings and nap times but like the chapter says, it can streamline and limit your options for expression. You simply can’t tear out or add a page in the digital world of an app.
Twitter and Facebook are some of the social media platforms mentioned in the chapter where we see filters limiting the user in certain ways but not in others. Twitter limits the user in the sense that only 140 characters are allowed to be posted per tweet. Therefore, the user must deliver their message only using that many characters. I think this can be useful because it helps you share what’s really important about what you want to say. But at the same time, it limits you because you have to leave out information that perhaps was not as important but you wanted to share it anyway. I found interesting how all these filters are often combinations of technological, cultural and cognitive filters. Facebook is limited when it comes to the default list of life events they have available for the user to share on their timeline. The chapter points out how they have the option for you to share weight loss as an event but it does not have weight gain in their list. I see this as a cultural and cognitive filter assumption showing that no one wants to share that they have gained weight. It is simply not the norm for someone to announce that they have gained weight. I think that society often advertises skinniness as the best option for your physical appearance and Facebook seems to be aware of that.
SkinneePix is an app that is also aware of the cultural filter related to weight or the preference for appearing skinny. This chapter indicates that technological filters are influenced by cultural filters and whether we like the way our cultural filters are influencing our technological filters or not, I have to agree with the fact that it does influence it. The SkinneePix app is an example presented of this. The app allows you to take pictures of yourself and make you appear skinnier that what you really are. The app was created based on the “use the skinny lens” comments from people. While I don’t think that using this app is the solution for looking skinnier, if that’s what you would prefer to look like, this is a filter people have the option to use if they are comfortable doing so.
The chapter moved on to talk about how early camera film was calibrated to provide good detail for people with lighter skin tones rather than for people with darker skin tone. This is an example of how filters can be both technological and cultural. When I read about this I thought that this showed the lack of importance there is towards darker skin tone people – very much a cultural filter. I was stunned to see how Kodak decided to do something about this only when companies selling dark woods and dark chocolates complained about the lack of quality they were getting for pictures of their products. So products were more important than parents complaining over their children’s school pictures quality? This was an example to see how this skin tone bias is a technological filter yet very much so a cultural filter as well.
The overall topic regarding filters was fascinating to read about. We are constantly running all kinds of information through filters and I think it is just amazing how many of these times we are doing this very much unconsciously. I also think that most of the times we are mostly using a combination of technological, cultural, and cognitive filters rather than using these completely separately.
Chapter 3 – Serial Selfies
This chapter focused more directly on the idea of visual self-representation online – selfies, time-lapse videos, and profile photos. The term selfie is so popular today that it makes you think that it is a thing that people do now that was never done before. However, there is a very high chance that we have all taken a selfie before they were called selfies. Suzanne Szucs is for sure a great example of someone that was taking selfies way before they were called selfies. She took pictures every day for 15 years. She used polaroids then and she exhibits the photos in various configurations. I cannot fully comprehend why selfies are so popular now although people have been taking selfies for a long time. But perhaps the media that we have today has helped them increase their popularity.
Time-lapse videos are another way of self-representation and this chapter does a great job in showing a number of examples of people who have done time-lapse videos. I found all these examples interesting because at times they were so similar to each other and yet so different. Ahree Lee’s video Me and Noah Kalina’s video Everyday were two time-lapse videos uploaded to YouTube in the same month and year. They both went viral but Kalina’s video became even more popular than Lee’s video. The chapter indicated that it seems like race and gender had to do with the difference in commenters’ reception. Commenters assumed that she didn’t smile because she was Asian by commenting ‘lol she’s Asian so she looked the same for the whole thing’. Commenters on Noah’s video instead said ‘y so sad’ or ‘Pocker face’. I think that based in the examples presented in the chapter, commenters in these videos were quick in associating their perception with stereotypes. I was curious to see more of these comments for myself and went ahead and searched these videos. I spent quite some time reading through these comments and noticed that there were a lot of comments on Kalina’s video asking which frame was the one showing his picture taken on 9/11 but there weren’t any clear comments referencing race. When I read over the comments on Lee’s video what I noticed was that there was a strong attention towards the blonde wig that she wears for one of her pictures. I also noticed other race related comments like ‘so um, this proves that Asians don't age at al’ and ‘Japanese?’. This showing that race and gender did seem to have to do with commenters’ reception towards these videos.
Karl Baden’s time-lapse video was interesting to watch as well. I thought that watching this video was softer on the eyes since it is just a black and white frame and Baden uses the same plain background all throughout the video. Rebecca Brown’s video was the complete opposite to Baden’s. Brown’s video is full of color and the background is constantly changing. She also adds caption to her video where she shares overwhelming things she is going through. What impressed me the most about her video was the way she ended it. She speaks briefly at the end introducing herself and saying ‘that was 6.5 years of my life. Woohoo!. Pretty scary stuff.’ She then directs you to choose if you would like to go to her personal channel to see her aside from taking pictures of herself or if you would like to learn more about her hair condition, Trichotillomania, by clicking on a different link. I found her time-lapse video to be the most powerful one because she shared a deep self-representation of what she is going through in different aspects of her life with the world watching her video.
Profile photos was another section this chapter talked about and it connects to our self-representation. This chapter explains it this way ‘a profile picture is a visual expression of identity, and our choice of profile picture photos is clearly a form of visual self-representation.’ As I read through this section, I thought about my profile pictures and I realized that they don’t connect deeply with my identity. In fact, the profile pictures I’ve chosen, I’ve chosen purposely to protect my identity and to avoid self-representing who I really am. But I guess that if I think again, in some way, although I have a hydendria as a profile picture, it is a picture I chose because I thought it was a pretty flower. So in some way it connects to who I am, my likes, my taste. I have also had pictures of landscapes of places where I’ve been, places I love to be. I would never put a profile picture of something I don’t like at all or a picture of something I can’t relate to.
I think that whether we decide to put a selfie, a picture of a flag or a picture of us with a loved one as our profile picture, in some way, we are self-representing a piece (small or big) of who we are. The idea of self-representation is a broad one and there are many ways we can decide to do this. We could choose to do something like Suzanne Szucs or Rebecca Brown which were two people that really put themselves out there or we can do whichever form of self-representation that we feel more comfortable with.
Mine's Valencia, although Lo-Fi is gaining in popularity on my Instagram. Or maybe X-Pro II? So many choices, and I can control them all. Isn't that cool? I can dictate what my friends think my life is like by pressing a button. In a matter of lighting, my hastily-grabbed cup of coffee before work becomes a relaxing stop at the local cafe, and a quick literary caption paints the image of spending hours musing over the works of my favorite authors. In one tap, I've built an entire li(f)e for myself, and an outsider might never know the truth.
I have an image in my head when I read the title of Chapter 2 of Jill Walker Rettberg's Seeing Ourselves Through Technology that looks something like this:
We cannot represent our lives or our bodies without using or adapting, resisting and pushing against filters that are already embedded in our culture, whether those filters are cultural or technological. Cultural filters change over time and are different in different cultures. We can and often do resist or change cultural filters, but most of the time we simply act according to the logic of the filter without even realizing that is what we are doing. (24-25)The concept that we are so controlled is a scary one because it paints us as puppets, manipulated by "filters" well beyond our control. Going back to where I began, Rettberg comments that "One reason the filter fascinates us is that it gives the image that strangeness that defamiliarizes our lives. The filter makes it clear that the image is not entirely ours. The filtered image shows up ourselves, or our surroundings, with a machine's vision" (26). Following that thought, is my filtered cup of coffee trying to fool you into believing that my life is something other than it is? Or am I trying to fool myself. By looking at my life through the impartial camera lens, does it make it anything other than what it is?
Selfies can be raw and revealing. They can feel too authentic, too honest. Perhaps running them through a filter to boost the colours, overexpose the skin to hide its imperfections or give them a retro tinge is sometimes the only way we can bear to share these images of ourselves. (27)This reminds me, almost unbearably so, of Frankenstein, when the monster says to Victor, "You are my creator, but I am your master." Are we too to be so controlled by the lives we create and dream into existence? What is this filtered lifestyle doing to our realities and our perceptions of the world? A recent article also comes to mind in light of this filtered, #instagood world-- Australian Instagrammer Essena O'Neill decided to walk away from the filtered life and, before leaving, edited the captions to many of her photos, explaining the emptiness and fake reality of the world that once consumed her. What does this say about the world in which we live?
On the flip side of all of these concerns, there is beauty to be found in the filters, and this thought occurred to me upon reading about #365grateful. Rettberg points out that an artful photograph of dirty laundry might remind us that there is a family to make that pile (okay, I know several people who would argue that they are perfectly grateful for their families and don't need the pile of laundry to remind them, but you see my point). This thought also led me to think about the past, and question if this world is so different from that of the past. After all, the Romantic poets certainly saw their worlds through a filter (if you follow my meaning). and we hail their work to this day. Is it so different? Aren't we also using our own filters for the purpose of making beautiful?
Chapter 2 ended with an interesting discussion on the racial implications of photography and the selfie. I had never considered the misrepresentation angle of photography in my view of filters and selfies but, especially when coupled with the discussion of photography and the African American community, I found that it raised an interesting case against the fears expressed in the rest of the article: "Taking selfies can be a way of avoiding cultural and technological filters that you don't like or that don't represent you in a way that feels real to you" (30).
Moving on to Chapter 3, Serial Selfies, I found that the abstract presented an interesting case for observing the full story, not just individual posts or pictures, but all of them combined, in order to attempt to understand the entire picture-- the entire person behind the profile.
I think about this a lot. A lot goes into the way one presents oneself on social media, and I often wonder what my profile looks like to those friends who don't know me all that well. Most of my posts are directed toward the people who I know look at my profile-- a moderately sized circle of friends and acquaintances-- but every so often I get a notification from someone who I barely know and I realize, they can see everything I post too. My friends know who I am, but what do I look like to those who don't know me?
Rettberg's study of the daily selfie is an interesting one, because it raises an interesting question of observation. Why do we like to watch the time pass via one snapshot a day? What are we hoping to learn about ourselves that a compilation of pictures might reveal? And further, how do people's responses reflect on the content we are putting out there?
I've seen some of these videos, but I decided to watch Rebecca Brown's video, mainly because her 6.5 year commitment impressed me, and made me think that she had a story to share. And wow, did she ever.
Beckie Brown's video is a poignant tribute to her life story, and it is a story that could not possibly be grasped in pieces. Just like life goes on, as do the photos, through the good and the bad. Brown used her story to raise awareness of her struggles, and further, to help people know they're not alone. Between the years of 14 and 21 are some of the most important developmental landmarks in a life. We see one snapshot from every day in her life through it all.
Pictures serve as representations of who we are, which is why Rettberg moves to her next topic, profile pictures on social networking sites, and ties this into self representation. Why do we choose the things we choose to represent ourselves? If the only thing a stranger could observe about my Facebook is a profile picture of my dog, or if a potential friend is looking to add me and sees a poodle, what must they think? And why would I choose that image as my social network "first impression"? These are all questions I have considered over my own social profiles, as well as in observing others.
When we are able to dictate for ourselves what is put out there, it is interesting to see what we choose. Regardless of filters or "the chosen selfie," there is a mindset which goes beyond. Getting to the root of why we do what we do has only become more complicated by the digital age and our new selfie culture. I look forward to further discussion of this in class!
Especially, since I work in a high school with high school students everyday. I see them taking selfies everyday in class when their supposed to be paying attention to me. They would rather take a picture than to listen to what I have to say, damn kids! But that's not the point, now I'm wondering if every time they take a picture. They are actually searching for their elusive self-identity. Because I know in high school, kids are still trying to find themselves and represent themselves as who they believe themselves to be. But could it be that with every picture they take of themselves that they are trying to find one that reflects their personality at that point in time? And is that the reason they continually take selfies because in fact, not one picture that they have taken has fully or can fully encompass who they are or want to be?
And that, I believe is hard if not nearly impossible for them because they are still trying to find themselves. And if they don't know themselves well enough yet. How can they accurately take a picture or Selfie that represents the best of them or their identity? With this information, I can begin to understand little by little this aspect of self-identity in selfies.
I work with a woman who also sells a brand of magic cream (which I shall not name) that rejuvenates the skin and takes years off your face. Allegedly. She posts before and after pictures to her social media accounts all the time and I can't help but compare her to a snake oil salesman. The conditions and lighting are never the same for either picture, so it is fairly obvious to the naked eye that there is some camera trickery at play. If the before picture is trying to highlight crow's feet, you can tell by the shape of the cheek that the person is smiling. But in the after shot, the subject is stone faced. This is a clear indication of someone filtering out information for her own benefit.
In terms of photo albums only consisting of the good times, I have to say that depends on the person. My wife has been a shutterbug since high school. For each year since we've been married, she has created a photo album using Picaboo or Snapfish. When we had kids, she started creating them for each child, every year. That means we have three yearbooks (plus any special occasion books she decides to make) each year, each consisting of close to 100 pages of photos and text. She's insane.
But she also captures all the little moments in our lives. Part of that is recording the ugly parts. The trials we've been through. We don't have the puked on onesies discussed in the chapter, but we do have tantrums and boo-boos. For us, it's fun to look back on those moments and appreciate how they've contributed to us becoming who we are. Below is one of our favorites from a year ago. We call it "Dueling Timeouts".
|Note the dog longing for quieter days.|
|Not only is the fanny pack itself out of the 90's, but the color scheme is as well.|
“Me” : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGdc_qcmFF0
SEEING OURSELVES THROUGH TECHNOLOGY
How We Use Selfies, Blogs and Wearable Devices to See and Shape Ourselves
Ch 2: Filtered Reality
In addition to the exhaustive list of definitions for the word “filter” presented by Rettberg, what came to mind was that person (we all know someone) who has foot-in-mouth disease and always seems to say the most inappropriate things at the most inappropriate times, hence: no filter. I guess this could be most closely aligned to a cultural filter, in that most people inherently know what is “acceptable” to say in varying social situations. Another thought was the “earmuffs” term often references in mainstream movies/pop culture: filter out the bad language in front of the kids.
The mention of technological filters had me thinking about some ads that recently popped up on my facebook feed. Ads for mountain-climbing gear have been getting filtered into my page. I am not a mountain climber, but I have recently been searching up mountain gear as it relates to a novel my 5th graders are reading in class. I never log on to facebook at school, but I’m guessing anything I do on the internet gets connected back to facebook, since I automatically sign on through Google, etc. Scary. I’m thinking I can tell a lot about a person by looking at what kinds of ads come up on their facebook stream (assuming I could log on as them). Not surprisingly, most of the ads targeted to me are clothing companies, although I almost never actually purchase clothing online.
In referencing cultural filters, Rettberg analyzes baby books (online and not) to explore the imposed constraints in what people share about their child’s developmental years. This got me to thinking about the things I choose to post on facebook versus what others choose to post. I am not big into posting things, but when I do it is usually when I am out with friends having a good time. There is a sort of running joke about me that questions my lack of posts regarding my children. A few weeks ago, I posted an award or something my son received and my friends commented (in person) about how they “almost forgot I even had children.” It’s an interesting concept to analyze….how a friend of a similar age with two children floods her page and status updates with countless photos of her kids, while I do not. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and have some theories as to why. There are many factors that contribute to my lack of post regarding my kids. First, it’s my page, not theirs. I do not-and have never- based my identity around being a mother. That is only one small facet of how I view myself. I had a pretty good idea about who I was before my kids were born. Then, I began my (new) teaching career after they were born and had to reimagine myself in these new roles. Mother, wife, suburbanite & teacher transformed my identity in (what felt like) overnight. I am not any less proud of my kids or any less involved in their lives than the next mom, but I guess I see myself as more than a mom- if that makes any sense. I always joke about what will happen when the empty nest syndrome happens and wonder what these individuals will post….If I try, I can make some pretty significant parallels between how I parent and how I was raised. I clearly remember feeling a sense that my mom and dad were so in love and I was merely a byproduct of that love. There was a sense that they did not live for me, but for each other. That understanding did not cause fear or a feeling of insecurity in me, but rather it made me respect my parents’ relationship and fostered independence and confidence in me from an early age. When I think of myself now—-the forever optimist with endless dreams and aspirations—–I am hoping my children see my actions and internalize a strong sense of self and work ethic.
For a further glimpse into my upbringing (sorry if this is a little off-topic, but I think it relates to agency, I’ll share a little story from my childhood. I must have been about 12 years old and my family was sitting around the table talking. My father casually brought up a hypothetical situation in which he, my mom and I (or either one of my brothers) were on a sinking boat and he could only save one of us. His (half-joking???) response was to say that he would save my mom because “he could always make more of us, but there is only one of her.” Not exactly the politically correct sentiment of the day, but I understood his point as being not that he didn’t love me or didn’t want to protect me, but rather as a testament to his love for my mother. That understanding helped to create a sense of security surrounding their relationship and my home life- one that I feel is missing from today’s divorce-laden culture.
Aestheticising, anesthetising and defamiliarising
“In…‘Art as Technique’…Shklovsky argued that ‘defamiliarisation’ is the key device in literature and art…..The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ ….After we see an object several times, we begin to recognize it. The object is in front of us and we know about it, but we do not see it – hence we cannot say anything significant about it. Art removes objects from the automatism of perception in several ways.”
Andy Warhol and the whole pop-art movement kept coming to mind when reading the above excerpts. What better image to capture the idea of “defmailiarising” everyday objects.
Also, Warhol’s use of filters on images is a great add-on to the Instagram filter discussion.
“Choosing what technology can do- Our cameras know when we point them at a face, and can even wait until the person smiles before shooting a photo, but they cannot measure whether we love that person or not.”
This may be true, but they are certainly trying…have you seen those facebook prompts that offer to create a mash-up of your personality, saying: you are a combination of _________ and _____________ and _____________(insert friends’ names). Or, the ones that claim to figure out who loves you the most…there is apparently some sort of algorithm fb uses to determine these things…. I imagine some boyfriend or girlfriend getting mad at their mate because fb didn’t choose him/her, etc. UGH!
3 Serial Selfies
“Artists have anticipated almost every form of self-expression we see in digital media.”
I like the time lapse selfies, although I do not spend my time searching or watching them regularly. I remember being moved by one about domestic abuse here. Some comments indicate a suspicion of her being fake, but nevertheless, this can be a powerful genre when used for different purposed. The kid that grew from birth to age ten actually made me sad!
I was monitoring my son’s instagram account (as I often do) and came across this cool time-lapse video off him and his friends playing monopoly. Not sure if the link will work from here, but I was impressed. https://www.instagram.com/p/BCaS9K0j6a9/?taken-by=silver.heartz
What do my profile pics from the past few years say about me?…..A quick self-reflection revealed that I typically only change my profile pic on September 11th, my wedding anniversary, when I’ve just gone to Manhattan for fun and during vacation in the summer…..
In the end, I think the following quote from the text speaks volumes: “Our brains and senses filter our perception of the world.” Filters aside, it is ultimately how we, ourselves, perceive the world (and ourselves) that truly matters.