Thursday, February 26, 2015

"Shutterbug Parents"

A couple days ago I came across a New York Times article that discusses the reconstruction of memories that comes with photographic documentation of children. Dr. Linda Henkel, a professor of psychology at Fairfield University, calls it a "photo-taking impairent effect." She compares the phenomenom to stories relatives tell at the dinner table on Thanksgiving as opposed to what really happened. "The physical photo doesn't change over time, but the photo becomes the memory," she says. The 2014 study she conducted shows that people are less likely to remember details of things they have photographed than they are to remember details of things they did not photograph. This is due to an outsourcing of memory; the subjects relied on the photograph and therefore did not feel the need to pay much attention to details. Because of this, certain details that are in the photo can "assume a greater role" than details that are not in the photo and thus forgotten (Wayne, Shutterbug Parents and Overexposed Lives).

This results in a third-person perspective effect. You may not have any recollection of your first birthday party, but perhaps the cake in the photograph triggers your memory. Your memory is now dependent on the details in the photograph. It is hard to say whether your cake was vanilla as you recall it—because you see white icing in the photograph—or if it was actually chocolate. You have no independent memory; it has been reconstructed based on what you see.

Children are no strangers to this third-person perspective effect, but the article suggests that with the increasing popularity of camera-enabled smartphones and instant photo sharing platforms. parents as well as children will have altered recollections. Captions can also overshadow original memories by highlighting specific details but not others.

Just a decade or so ago, parents did not take nearly as many photographs of their children as they do now. Henkel speculates, "Maybe taking photos is a way to compensate for not being in the moment." While the trends seen in her study do seem to support that conclusion, I disagree. I believe taking photos has enhanced my experience (this only applies to photographs I have taken myself). Perhaps I feel this way because I am still young and have less memories to remember, so everything is still relatively fresh in my mind. I view photographs as part of the experience. I still remember how long it took to get everyone in the picture, the many requests for retakes, the search for just the right lighting, and the ever difficult composition of the perfect Instagram caption. But talk to me in 50 years. I'll probably have a different opinion then.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Tara's Third Blog Post: "And Everything Nice"

This week, I read articles on Glamour and Buzzfeed about 19-year-old college student Hannah Altman's photography series called And Everything Nice. In her collection, she chooses to replace female bodily fluids like blood, vomit, and tears using glitter to criticize society's standards of beauty. In her analysis of her photos, Altman discloses to Buzzfeed:
"By creating set-ups that would normally be considered grotesque would it not be for the glitter, the sparkle stands out because it is the only facet of the photo that is abnormal. The women models do not seem to acknowledge the glitter as something any different than natural body fluid, which supplements the idea that women have been conditioned to go to any length in order [to] keep up an attractive appearance. The project is meant to raise the awareness of such a ridiculous standard, and to question its morality."
I admire that Altman took this stance on society's absurdly superficial standards of attractiveness, as she cleverly used glitter to glamorize the need for girls and women to strive to look alluring despite the reality of a scenario like crying or vomiting.

This photo collection definitely remarks upon gender and sexuality performances online, as Altman clearly wants to challenge the notion of women having to appear "put together" in order to be considered appealing. Her subversion of traditional concepts of sexuality I found of particular interest, as she is right in ridiculing the fact that women frequently wear makeup, shave their body hair, and endeavor to hide their "flaws" all in the hopes of attracting a partner.

However, if one thinks of stereotypes in society, men also put on a similar performance, as traditionally it is not considered "masculine" or like the model image of man for a male to be seen crying or showing his emotions. Thus, by endeavoring to look attractive by hiding the realities of one's "imperfections," this superficial lifestyle of appearances that Altman is addressing helps no one in reaching true understanding of one's identity beneath the surface.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

#XTownSelfies USC & UCLA

Across town, Miriam Posner, who coordinates and teaches in the UCLA Digital Humanities program, is also teaching a course on selfies, with a slightly different emphasis.  Her course, Selfies, Snapchat, and Cyberbullies, focuses on contemporary media shifts, moral panics, and the myths and myth-busting about millenials. (Did I get that right, Miriam?)  From her course site:
Still, perhaps something about life is different for people who grew up with the Internet. So how do we think about these differences without defaulting to alarmist diatribes about sexting, or utopian proclamations about the Internet as a realm of boundless freedom? How do we talk about generational difference without flattening diversity or ascribing supernatural power to technology?
In an show of selfie solidarity, we've teamed up with Miriam's course in a number of projects.  One of them is the Cross-town Selfie Challenge.  For this project, students from USC's #SelfieClass are posting selfies that Miriam's UCLA students will recreate, changing one aspect.  We'll reflect on what happens when you present yourself in someone else's pose, walk a mile in someone else's selfie, or perhaps in another framing, use selfies for a dialogue, as Jill Walker Retteberg described in her book Seeing Ourselves Through Technology.   We'll be using the hashtags #Xtownselfies and #SelfieClass. Selfie On!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Teen murders classmate and takes a selfie with the body (and sends it over snapchat)

This is the article:

The summary of the article is basically that this one teenager shot his classmate in the face and then took a selfie with the dead body and then proceeded to send this selfie to a bunch of his friends via snapchat. This is appalling to me. This sixteen year old kid shot someone in the face and felt apparently felt no remorse since he took a selfie with the dead body. Now, what I found surprising was what most of the media didn't do. While the first article I stumbled upon on facebook about this topic was very focused on the race aspect of the crime, almost all of the other reports have been very racially ambiguous. This was a black on white crime and with all of the discussions we've been having about Ferguson, I assumed race was going to be a bigger story than it was, which I was both happy and confused about. I'm happy about the fact that people are looking past skin color, but I'm also confused as to why that is. I feel like if this were a white on black crime, it would be all over the news due to Ferguson, the "I can't breathe" controversy, and the Trayvon Martin case. Then, it made me realize that people are more outraged about the fact that the people of authority are white, and they're the ones who are attacking allegedly innocent African Americans.
Although police brutality is definitely an issue (even despite race), why aren't people talking about the teenagers who have been shooting up schools and their classmates? Yes, there has been significant media coverage over a few school shootings over the years like the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, but overall, the issue doesn't see much light.


For something that occurs so often, why does nobody really know about them? And why are teenagers starting to use social media outlets (namely, Snapchat) to showcase their crimes? Are they motivated by social media to post things with such intense shock value? There was even a case recently where a student set a sleeping girl on fire just so he could post it on his snapchat story. It seems as though more and more people are crossing boundaries for the sake of social media, and it's something that was certainly not a problem 10 years ago, so we are going to have to start finding new ways to prevent this violence that people are starting to view as a form of entertainment.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Snapchat Update Outrage

Last week, Snapchat rolled out its most recent update. Among the new features is Discover (a media section that includes CNN, Cosmopolitan, National Geographic, etc) and a new option to add users via a QR code-esque scanning system. But the most notorious change is the removal of the "Best Friends" list.

What is the "Best Friends" list and why do people care so much?

According to the Snapchat support page, your "Best Friends" are selected according to a "magical Snapchat friendship algorithm." There is debate on whether this algorithm only takes into account who users send snaps to most frequently or if it also includes who users communicate with via the messaging feature. Either way, the "Best Friends" list reflects reflected who people talked to the most—on Snapchat, at least.

Reminiscent of the "Top Friends" feature on MySpace, the "Best Friends" list is of great significance to popular culture. According to running jokes on social media, the "Best Friends" list is useful for

  • Marking your territory (e.g. actual best friends, significant others)
  • Peeking at who your ex is talking to
Exhibit A: How to check up on your significant other
And lastly, the most joked about use:
  • Checking up on your significant other
Unlike MySpace's "Top Friends", Snapchat does not let users choose "Best Friends." This, perhaps, adds to the mystique. Because users cannot control who makes the list, society believes this somehow gives a more honest picture of where a relationship stands.

Now What?

Due to the overwhelming backlash, Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel announced that they will bring the feature back.

Spiegel's twitter announcement

But the fact that there was backlash at all presents a clear message—the "Best Friends" list is an important indicator of a person's honesty, and it is society that has placed attached this symbolic significance to it. After all, at its very core, the list was nothing more than an algorithm. But because it was used as another stage for social performativity, the "Best Friends" list grew to be an integral part of some relationships, for better or for worse. And without it some people are totally lost.

Exhibit B: Reliance on the "Best Friends" list

Speculative Selfies

Selfies document (and produce) the narrative of our daily lives.  But what of the future?

For this assignment, post a Speculative Selfie (or #specselfie) in which you are presented at a potential future moment of your life. You may imagine yourself 30 years from now or just over the weekend.

What does this say about you?  How does it represent your current identity? How does it represent your aspirations? Fears?

How does this change the way we think about about #selfies -- about the act of representing ourselves online?  How does it trouble the notion of #selfies as being authentic representations of lived experiences rather than highly constructed, performances?

Put text in the Tweet to act an anchor, to help give the image further narrative context.

Please, Tweet it out using #SelfieClass and #SpecSelfie hashtags

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Tara's Second Blog Post: Always #LikeAGirl

As we all know, Superbowl commercials are of huge interest to advertisers, all of whom vie to get chosen to be featured during the program in order to reach the ridiculously high number of viewers watching the event. While I actually did not watch the game on Sunday, I did hear about a commercial for "Always Feminine Products" that I've actually seen before called "Always #LikeAGirl." The video is a little over 3 minutes and endeavors to rally support for championing girls' confidence. 

At first, the director asks a few young women, a little boy, and a grown man what it means to do something like a girl, as in run, throw, or fight. These individuals proceed to comply with the stereotype for doing something "like a girl" by appearing weak or inadequate at physical activity, flailing their hands around like a T-Rex dinosaur, etc. She then asks young girls the same question, and each of them proceeds to do the best they possibly can at showing how to run, throw, and fight like a girl, not bowing or most likely being ignorant of the derogatory gender stereotype. Next, a banner question is put on the screen asking: "When did doing something 'like a girl' become an insult?" The young boy responds that he believes he insulted girls, but not his sister, while one of the younger girls replies that "like a girl" indeed sounds like an insult. Another banner is featured stating that "a girl's confidence plummets during puberty" and that "'Always' wants to change that." Each of the young women past puberty then acknowledge how hearing the phrase "like a girl" harmfully affects young girls' perceptions of themselves between the ages of 10 and 12 and give advice that doing something "like a girl" is nothing to be ashamed of, as videos of all the girls trying their best to run, throw, fight, etc. play to the soundtrack of their anecdotes. The video closes with one young woman asking: "Why can't 'run like a girl' also mean win the race?"

This video definitely aligns with issues of identity related to gender, as women are traditionally taught during puberty through phrases such as "like a girl" that excelling at physical activity or something outside the Cult of Domesticity is wrong. I was definitely reminded of Judith Butler's ideas about gender performativity, as the young women at first performed according to society's standards about how women perform in regards to sports, while the young girls did not since they had not yet had such damaging cultural norms ingrained into their brains. The men complied with the stereotype too, demonstrating that they also took part in perpetuating the shrouding of a girl's gender identity through adhering to the cultural norm of female incompetence. However, when the participants were told to recognize the weight of the derogatory term, the girls stopped succumbing to the performance aspect required to adhere to the "like a girl" stereotype. I laud this video in promoting confidence for young women, as it encourages girls to fully accept and embrace conventionally "masculine" as well as all sides of their gender identity.