LOVE THYSELFIE: Being online together

From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here; the duration of the transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being, as Sontag says, will touch me like the delayed rays of a star. — Roland Barthes

The Internet used to feel a lot more like a secret — especially for the generation that saw it flicker on, suddenly and all at once. But for a subset of us, we dug even deeper to find niche corners, craving a global tribe through anonymous usernames and absurd URLs. We sometimes confide more in strangers than our closest friends: loose ties of networks present as lower stakes. This incognito sheen allows us to create or reveal new facets of ourselves.

“LOVE THYSELFIE” is a community created in 2014. When someone posted, it had to include a selfie. Society has always been obsessed with its own image; self-love goes all the way back to the myth of Narcissus and he was like, really hot apparently. We are incessant about our production of subjective image making, through our bodies and the reflective mediums that recreate them. Selfies speak to the inherent imperfection of representation, a way to exude existence, face-to-face. We forget that when we see a face on the screen, we are looking at somebody looking back. Selfies sound selfish, but they epitomize the tension between the subject’s privacy/intimacy and the public illumination of social relations.

You know when you take multiples and then pick one but then have to decide who to share it with?

LTS had a worldwide reach, but gravitated around the United States: particularly Minneapolis, New York City, Los Angeles, and New Orleans. Someone in Berlin recently told me LTS was their first interaction with Americans. Most of us were strangers at first. Some of us already knew each other, but invited others, kind of like when you text your friend to come meet you at a good party. I love it when I’m asked, “how do you know each other” and the 2-word response that follows: “the Internet.” Or when you think you recognize someone as a friend but realize they are someone whose images you’ve seen so often, they seem familiar.

In the beginning, we made a little game where people chased first X selfies: first butt selfie, first dump.fm selfie, first date nervous selfie, first “kiss cam”, first post break up selfie, first Sponge Bob, first pringles duck face, first underwater butt?. Eventually there were nudes, and then a lot of nudes, and then some nudes. This was before the Algorithm could automagically flag them.

But it really was just the feeling of going somewhere where everyone knows your username.

Interpersonal relationships developed through the group and brought all the baggage that goes along with that. Scrolling through, there were crushes and heartbreak, agony and ecstasy. But friendships were also established and still flourish: there were IRL LTS meet-ups when you were looking for a party in some random city, and celebrations of holidays together, real and made-up (like Monday bun day). There were even spin-off groups like the Braternity and Cosmic Chemistry. It was invigorating and exhausting: the materiality of the virtual can feel thick, weighted by sentiment. In the end, though, you go somewhere to be a part of something larger than yourself, but inevitably log off just by yourself all the same: alone together.

By sharing all these mundane and memorable moments, LTS became a sanctuary, a confessional, and a communal diary. So, what is intimacy online? Intimacy is not necessarily driven by trust but rather, it is due to kismet: the alignment of time and place. The virtual enfolds these physical dimensions. Putting yourself out there online is twisted. Twisted because you can say so much without uttering a word — the synaptical interiority of the mind intermingling with other floating encounters in the air.

This group consciousness made me picky, even paranoid, about those I let in: do they fit in? does the person have good politics? Picky also just means biased: do I think they’re attractive in appearance, in substance? The group was limited to 333 people, based on some arbitrary arithmetic I derived from Dunbar’s number. People in the group could invite other people. People left on their own accord or I removed them. We all had our reasons.

A lot of us migrated from other now-defunct corners of the Internet: BuddyPic, screenhacc, LiveJournal, MySpace, superfuture. We were driven by the premise that this is not what the creators of the platform intended it to be. We love the places we could keep to ourselves. But like all subversion, it inevitably gets absorbed into capitalism: I see ads for Groups now. This publication is a capsule of shared, lived experience from before that: the domains of AFK and WWW funneled through the self, from those who lived through the inevitable alignment of the two. — AT