GONE IN A FLASH: MY LIFE IN PICTURES
The term “avatar” is one that I have heard before. Although when I first read it on our syllabus, I’m going to be honest, I thought we were going to be writing an essay on a movie. Well I was off by a long shot. I forgot that the term “avatar” carried a dual meaning; one that I subject myself to on a daily basis without fully being aware of it. Avatar by definition, is “an icon or figure representing a particular person in computer games, Internet forums, etc”. Through images I have taken throughout my life and put as avatars on any pages or profiles I have operated, I have helped create the identity I possess online. More so, the identity that I want people to see of me. Through the use of autoethnography I will be able describe and narrate moments in my life while showing how “self and culture [hold] together” (Liao 32).
Let us being our journey four years back, when I thought I was an all-that senior in high school. It was the Fall of 2012 and all of my friends had just gotten their senior portraits back. Of course the very first thing to do, even before showing your parents, was to make it your Facebook profile picture. Coming from a time in which everything must be documented and posted, I was always the one who tried to shy away from being the basic white girl who followed the crowd. So when the time came to decide if I was going to follow in the footsteps of my basic bitch friends, I had to weigh my options. Did I want to be associated in this way? Did I want to be one of the girls who posts photos for the likes, for the “wow” factor? What were people going to think when I post this? Am I going to get likes or am I going to embarrass myself? Overall, did I want to be different or did I want to post the stereotypical senior photo? A lot of thoughts were going through my head, but in the end I decided, hell with it. I liked the photo, I thought it was a good representation of myself and I wanted to share my senior portrait with the Facebook world. Christine Liao, author of “ My Metaphoric Avatar Journey” said something that resonated with me. That these avatars are “…Creating the history of me” (Liao 35). And I was doing just that.This photo marked a pivotal moment in my life that by sharing it online, helped promote my identity to the outside world. Furthermore, securing my own identity to myself as someone who was growing up.
Yes I wanted people to see a softer, prettier side of myself for I was always wearing sweats with no makeup on. I was curious as to what a reaction would be when actually being done up for a change. Before posting, I couldn’t really gauge a reaction, I only hoped for a positive one. In the end, I received high amounts of traffic on the photo, something I was not at all expecting. This was a turning point for me in the online world. I went from just choosing a random photo to put up as my avatar to actually putting thought into it. Who would see this? If I want so-and-so to see it what kind of photo will make them notice me? While in the beginning this photo was a self-fulfilling action, after it received so much praise it began to introduce me to the culture of “other-focused” artifacts rather than a “self-focused” identity performance.
Reunited and it Feels So Good
This photo was taken only moments after me and my best friend, Abby, were reunited after not seeing each other since we left for school in August of 2013. Now, I don’t know about you, but going from seeing your best friend literally every day to not seeing him/her for nine months is not easy. For me this photo represents pure happiness and love. Not that you would be able to tell, but it also represents relief, comfort, ease. Freshmen year is a difficult, challenging year filled with ups and downs. You have to adjust to a completely different lifestyle all while making new friends. For me, this photo is hiding the difficulty the year brought but showed the happiness I felt to be back, to be home.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t care who saw this photo or what kind of reception it received. I’m a girl, I care about the likes, it’s the culture I live in. It is the culture of posting photos not necessarily for yourself, but for how they will be received, how many likes and comments it will get. I wanted all of my new college friends to see me at home with my best friend that I am always talking about. In a weird way, I wanted to prove my friendship. I created this idea of myself at home and I wanted to back it up. So by posting this photo, I thought that others would look at it and think “Wow, these guys are really are great friends” or “Look, there’s the girls she’s always talking about!” This photo helps construct my life online, shows people who I associate with. It displays a larger part of me that has helped shape who I am, therefore providing aid in identifying myself in the online world.
Who Run the World?
This photo has to be one of my all time favorites. This marked one of my favorite nights with some of my best friends at the end of my freshmen summer. We were a few weeks away from going back to college and I was given tickets to the Beyonce and Jay-Z concert. What better way to end the summer with an awesome concert and some awesome friends. As we were walking to the concert, of course being the white (basic, if you will) girls that we are, we had to take a couple photos to put on Instagram. Our generation is the culture of “if you didn’t post it, did it really happen?” Alice Marwick describes this phenomena in her book “Status Update” as “lifestreaming”. Life streaming “is the ongoing sharing of personal information to a networked audience, the creation of a digital portrait of one’s actions and thoughts” (Marwick 208). For girls of this generation, no matter what race, ethnicity, or religion, there is a need to document and share everything. It helps one connect themselves to the online environment and feel as if they are a part of the “conversation”, if you will. It’s about the “ ‘always-on’ aspect of social media, the constant pings and alerts that make smartphones so hard to ignore” (Marwick 208). The culture that I associate with identifies themselves as such. They, or I should say we, can’t be without our phones or taking photos for more than a few minutes. Now I know that isn't everyone but it sure is the majority. I remember being at this concert and taking a moment to look around and take it all in then seeing how many people were one their phones. Texting, snapping, calling, taking photos. It dawned on me that we’re a generation that can’t live in the moment. That we have to document it to make it last as long as we can. The formation of memories aren't enough, there must be solid evidence that you did something, which honestly is a little frightening to think.
Something that also dawned on me through the use of lifestreaming was the strong presence of “FOMO” in our society. FOMO is defined as the “fear of missing out”, something that I’m sure everyone has felt but didn’t know there was a name for. Through posting these photos we are showing how much fun we are having or how exciting what we’re doing is. But in reality, is it all that fun and exciting? Or are we just creating an image that we want people to see? By posting these photos we’re establishing FOMO for other people causing unnecessary worry. Marwick states, “Lifestreaming created other anxieties. People worried about their status in the community and whether they were participating appropriately…” (Marwick 227). I feel as if our culture thrives on FOMO and social anxiety. Girls love to post photos and try to make other girls jealous with what they are doing/wearing/who they’re with, ultimately causing those who aren’t there anxiety. Girls love attention and by making people think “OMG I wish I was there” or “Ugh, wish I could have been with them” or “Her outfit is perfect, where did she get it..” “They look like they’re having the time of their lives” can be considered a success.
For me, this photo represented fitting in. Not having to experience the FOMO of not attending this huge event. Being one of the maybe forty girls on my Instagram feed who posted photos from this concert. I was a part of something bigger than myself. A population of people who shared the same experience, who wanted to show it off and engage with those online whether they attended or not.
Chop N’ Change
During the time I took this picture, it was the dawn of selfie taking. I completely identify with Rachel Syme when she says,“We are living in a time of peak-selfie, and therefore, peak-selfie hatred” (Syme). While again I will say that I’m typically not one to go with the crowd and I honestly don’t like selfies (maybe it’s just because I can’t take them to save my life) but this time was different. This was the first selfie that I had ever taken, more so, ever posted to any type of social media. I have had long hair since I can remember and hadn’t gotten it cut in years. So going from hair down my back, to right above my shoulders, I thought this would be a good opportunity to break my selfie abstention. I had intentions with this selfie and the reception I wanted to receive. Full blown, I want likes, we’re going for the “wow factor” kind of intentions.
Selfies to me, or at least the ones I have seen, represent beauty and a fair amount of narcissism, two things that I don’t necessarily identify with myself. However, I do think of myself as a risk taker and through this hair cut, I wanted to show that. This photo represents me going from a little freshmen girl to a mature women. I was a sophomore now, no longer viewed as the “fresh meat”. I wanted to start off sophomore year with a bang (or a bowl cut, wasn’t too sure once she started snipping away). For me I wanted to Instagram a photo that people were going to think “Wow, look at her” and by doing so, some work had to go into it. Yes, I edited the heck out of that picture. I threw some filters on it, changed the lightening to make my eyes pop and look tanner. I didn’t want to change how I looked, I just wanted to enhance it. I’m very aware of myself as a female and what that means not only online but online. Whether we’re black, white, green, orange, in skin color, in this culture and society, we aim to please, we yearn appreciation and attention. We want to create an image of ourselves that we think society will appreciate and receive in a good way. Every girl wants to be told how pretty they are and these photos are how women fulfill that want in the online world.
In the End…
Every photograph has to have some amount of significance to someone, whether it’s to remember the name of a store, snap a shot of your friends at a party or pose for a selfie. While this is true, not every photo carries the weight that an avatar that you have chosen does. An avatar is a representation of your best self, an image that you find has enough significance and “stick” that it is something you want people to see first and remember you by. These avatars that I have chosen throughout the years represents me at different points in my life. Avatars not only represent oneself but the culture of the current time. As years progress the online environment will only continue to grow, as will selfie stick lengths. And as the internet grows, so will the need to satisfy the status quos of social media.
Liao, Christine. “My Metaphoric Avatar Journey.” Visual Culture & Gender Vol. 3, 2008. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. http://vcg.emitto.net/3vol/liao.pdf
Marwick, Alice E. Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age. UK: Yale, 2013. Print.
Syme, Rachel. “SELFIE — Matter.” Medium. Ed. Mark Lotto. 2015. Web. 24 Mar. 2016. <https://medium.com/matter/selfie-fe945dcba6b0#.bm6hqqj0h>.