Filtering my idea of me

Chapter 2

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).

I found the example of a preformatted baby journal to be particularly interesting since we had a baby journal for both of our children and didn’t use them at all. For my son, I took pictures once a month to mark his growth and by the time my daughter was born, I was keeping a journal that ended up including milestones for both kids. I don’t know if that was an unconscious response to a baby journal that I felt would have inhibited me, but it certainly seemed that I was into doing something different when it came to chronicling my baby’s growth.
I kind of understand the idea that Facebook filters out negativity – but users likely filter that out too, more likely responding to what is positive rather than what is negative. Rettberg admits to this by saying, “Partly this is because we would prefer to remember the good moments, but it is also because we know what we are supposed to document from having seen other baby journals and photo albums and from having seen which photographs and stories our friends and family share with us, offline or on social media.” That said, i agree wholeheartedly with the idea that we can’t represent our own lives (or at least its very difficult to do so) without dealing with cultural/tech filters.
The idea of filtering beauty for example is so abundant – we rail against starlets (even while we are watching them) but also make fun of them when photoshop goes wrong. However, the simple fact that there are so many avenues to offer visual representation of any given subject, like beauty or anything else, means that the parameters and “rules” and filters about what is acceptable and what isn’t are so varied that nearly everything has a place.

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 was surprised to learn about the photo filter that didn’t allow realistic representations of African-Americans but it certainly reflects the cultural filter of the time as well.  It is sad to think that it took the pressure of big business to create a change in the filters, although, as Rettberg points out, most average people probably assumed there were simply limits to the technology while experts in the commercial field realized that wasn’t true.
I’m not sure that I agree with Rettberg’s point about genre filters limiting what we put online (or what is acceptable to put online or even what is technologically achievable). Yes there are parameters for each type of blog (the example of a diet blog points to a fairly obvious conclusion that people want to share stories of success rather than failure, but im not even sure that’s always true) – the genres are so varied now that i believe the parameters become meaningless.  i also find, however, that people share problems and concerns by blogging as a way to find advice and support. so idon’t agree with the finding that its always about “constant progress” (p31) as much as it is about constant life. (I am thinking specifically of the example of a friend’s blog about her battle with MS.  She shares her successes and failures more or less equally. It is, again, more of a story of living day to day as opposed to building toward some goal in the future)
Chapter 3
I love the idea that people purposefully chronicle their lives in a way that, as the author attributes to Frank O’Hara, situate themselves in time and as author of their own lives.
As for the idea of the weblog (or Facebook) as a cumulative representation of ourselves, I find it interesting that we now have such a readily available tool to see ourselves as we were two three or eight years ago. Not only can we see ourselves but we can see what we were thinking, who we were associating with, etc. I believe people in class talked about the fact that it can sometimes be jarring to have Facebook remind you of something you were doing 5 years ago, reminding you that you thought something or someone was so important back then when the intervening time has shown you how unimportant they really are (or were). I’ve heard others tell me they wish they could turn off the feature that brings up things they wish would rather stay hidden in their past. I just took a walk through memory lane on my Facebook and was equal parts entertained and saddened. It included pictures of a friend who recently died and images of the band that I played in for several years but broke up last fall. Many many good times are represented there, which is great, but always a little depressing when you are reminded that they are in the past – in some cases, the distant past.

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?”.

Of course, it can be extraordinary to see how life moves around us, separate from ourselves. As I pointed out before, sometimes looking backward can be painful, although in the case of one’s own family, particularly children, I find that the sensation is often the opposite. I love looking at old pictures of my kids – partly because they are adorable and bring back great memories – but also because I can remember all the fears and worries I had about what kind of people they would grow into and I can look at them now and see how successful and wonderful they’ve become, even at 10 and 12. So many fears that were so big then have since been utterly forgotten. It reminds me that the fears I have now may very well meet the same fate. I found a series of photos last year that showed a similar passage of time for a father and son.  It is here.
Watching Rebecca Brown’s video was moving and added perspective to her condition, one I never heard about. I doubt there is a better way to demonstrate the pain of losing one’s hair than to show people the same face with hair and watch how that expression changes as they deal with losing it and even having to shave their own heads.
I found this very interesting – the idea that people use their Facebook profile photos, not just to show pictures of themselves but to show something about them.  As the article puts it “Some users even use a photo of themselves as a child, or a photo of their own child instead of a photo of themselves, in a move that simultaneously anonymises them a little and shows how profile pictures can function as metonyms: this is part of me.” A quick glance at my own Facebook friends found that while most showed their faces, there were plenty of kids and pets. Also quite a few showing either obscured images of themselves or themselves pictured from the book (bet there could be an interesting study into why people would choose that representation.  I actually used a picture of my son from the back as the primary image on my page).  I also saw a handful of cars, cartoon characters and some verbage that was a kind of personal motto or mantra. I’d say roughly half of the people that displayed themselves showed themselves with other people, mostly loved ones and family members. In this sense, it seems obvious that people not only want people to know them, but know them in context. Perhaps the idea is to make sure people know that there are others that love them or that they love others. I think it’s an easy way to communicate with the wider world a snapshot of a successful (meaning: purposeful and fulfilled) life.
As for the section on photobooths, I will only say that anytime I ever walk into a photobooth, I feel the need to show some sort of a progression from one photo to the next. Even doing different faces doesn’t seem enough to me. We are very clearly given a series of moments to freeze in a particular order.  I always try to frame some sort of narrative in those four images.

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