All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts…
Shakespeare, As you like it
Consciously or unconsciously, we have to define our role - that complex and undeniable point of departure for the self - when engaging in a social context. May it be when entering our own sphere, the safe catalogue of friends and family; or at work, with all it's interventions of power and the illusion of temporary community; or at the gym, where you are completely cut off from all social safety and anonymity is law. The online community may be just as complex, but it gives us new, different opportunities to alter and create this role of the self.
Michel Foucault explains in his well-acknowledged L’archéologie du savoir (1969) that he’s probably not the only one writing to become a face-less man. He wants to write himself into a labyrinth so deep that he gets lost, all in order to find himself re-appear, when finding his way out, as someone unrecognizable to others. So instead of having that recognizable smile to encounter for stability and coherence of the self, in Foucault’s case, he lets the text argue for what that self is.
Many people would probably agree with me and say that the reverse happens in a digital community where images come first-hand. With the constant opportunity to switch your profile image, or to erase your name from a caption, the digital representation is in constant flux. A recent study from Ohio State University, published in the Journal of Communication, has shown that we often judge a person based on what we see in a photo of them online. The study argues that we tend to trust an image more than we trust text-based information where someone has written about him- or herself.
Perhaps it’s not a new thought that we trust a photograph to be a part of reality, instead of an interpretation of it.
But the online community today is primarily based on images when it comes to sharing experiences with friends. Even anecdotes become secondary since a picture gallery gives us the possibility to expose all aspects of what we did last night. These images serve as a reference, incorporating who we are into a single stream of pictures.
Performativity thrills me, but how far can we go in relying on the digital community as a possibility to create a stronger personality, a digital role? What will happen with the present if we are more concerned with living in the past, polishing yesterday´s news, to keep up appearances; if we are more concerned with retouching last night´s pictures, and keeping up with the perfection that the future might hold? Personality is created among and together with others, in the present – reality!
Jesper Strömbäck Eklund recently settled down outside Stockholm to study creative writing after a hypnotic year travelling around America as a production assistant. He is passionate about virtual reality and what happens with the human body in a digital society.