This his been a hard week for me. After my last round of feedback, I felt a bit lost and confused about my idea, my direction, and like I had stalled in my tracks with getting something built and touchable in actual code.
However, after a bit of research, a lot of thinking, and a little bit of distance, I have some new ideas, some new rough prototypes to quickly demo and develop into a touchable app, and I’m feeling more personally connected and excited about my project and idea than before.
This post is to do a little reflection, explaining of my refined idea/direction, and to show a couple of rough prototypes that I am in the process of rapidly developing for use. In the meantime, I have been getting all of my other finals due after the holidays complete – better to devote the end of this week to laser focus on this project. The good part about this is that one of my other finals is an iOS app as well, and I have been getting a lot of mileage in how to pass around information throughout the application and generate text and transitions between different parts of the app. I have been tagging several quick examples and interactions from this process for future use when getting this up and running.
Refined Direction – Selfies & What They Mean
One of the big suggestions I got from my last round of Feedback was to research selfies and tropes around selfies for my project. At first I was kind of against this – after all I wanted a mirror app (even though I named it steamy selfie…). But after I got over myself, I realized that selfies might actually be a much stronger vehicle for what I am trying to convey rather than a super heavy-handed mirror metaphor built into the app.
One piece of research that really hit home for me was a blog on the Psychology of Selfies. The article discusses how selfies are very much modern self-portraits which have historically been about self-image and how we define ourselves, our identity.
“The ‘looking-glass self’ is a psychological concept that says how we see ourselves doesn’t come from who we really are, but rather from how we think others see us.”
However selfies are somewhat unique in this regard because now we can edit, delete, re-do these images very quickly, and we can share them with thousands of people on our networks. This image of ourselves and how we see ourselves can now be projected through selfies to a much wider audience, and the more photos we post trying to endorse a certain identity, the more likely it is other people will also endorse this identity of us.
Another article that helped connect some dots was a piece on the rise of the selfie stick from Gizmodo, The Truly Sincerely Brilliant Design History of the Selfie Stick. I was struck by a particular quote from this article as well, actually sourced from a book Technoromanticism: Digital Narrative, Holism, and the Romance of the Real by Michael Benedikt:
“Bombarded everywhere by images of opportunity and escape, the very circumstances of a free and meaningful human life have become kaleidoscopic, vertiginous. Under these conditions, the definition of reality itself has become uncertain. New forms of literacy and new means of orientation are called for.”
What he is saying is that our new reality is not just with our own two eyes as far as we can see anymore. It has been overlayed with a digital layer of information and experience that has most recently evolved into mobile screens we carry with us and use to enhance/transform our experience of the world. This is REALLY NEW as far as human history goes. The article also mentioned that “The dominant paradigm in technology over the past decade has been trying to figure out how our real world lives and screen lives should (or shouldn’t) connect.”
This is exactly what I have been trying to say with my design. That we are entering a world of fragmented, enhanced, kaleidoscopic, vertiginous identities that are increasingly informed by our screens. This has a big impact on how we view ourselves and our reality, especially when it comes to the hidden layer of data we share and that keeps the internet running the way it does. New forms of literacy and orientation are called for in this case, as we try to reconcile our digital and real identities and understand how they are informed and manipulated by our interactions. I hadn’t really thought of this in terms of selfies earlier, but I can see now how they very much symbolize this joining of digital and real.
I then wanted to get more of an academic perspective on this idea, so I found a paper from the International Journal of Communication, “The Selfie Assemblage”, which ended up being very helpful for me in further refining this idea about selfies as a sort of mirror/screen of our mixed real/digital identities.
“Selfies exist in a unique moment in human technological history, one that invites consideration of the multiple worlds that individuals inhabit, the nexus of the intimate self, public spaces, locative technology, and digital social networks.”
In the realm of media studies, this means that there is a recognition that digital media has become increasingly mobile and in doing so has come to play a new role in our lives. Mobile devices are embedded into our everyday activities, including the outdoors in ways computers never did, and as a result, we are shifting from a “cyber” to “hybrid” media interface, and are no longer able to address the disconnection between physical and digital spaces.
Selfies are interesting reminders of this shift. They are actually digital manifestations of material existence – look I’m alive, I’m here, with these people, doing this thing! Thus, they have a lot of contradictions. On one hand they seem like they are about “the self” yet they require sharing to be recognized. They allow us to materialize ourselves (physically by holding our phone in a selfie angle and including ourselves in the frame of the photo) immediately in our everyday existence, yet they are ephemeral, quickly circulated and forgotten, and easily manipulated by the user. Selfies are actually understood as “spontaneous yet rehearsed” by popular culture, providing a “real” glimpse into the corporeal presentation of self. We are proving that we are emplaced and embodied in our digital and real existence, however it is a destabilized sense of self, caught between “competing ideals and stylizations” since our photos are supposed to be spontaneous yet we need to have the perfect angle, location, accessories, and makeup at the same time.
“The complexity of identity and subjectivity is accented by the mere tap of the screen as the user simultaneously expresses the multiple memberships and markers of physical and digital being.”
However, when we participate in sharing our selfies – user generated content – in networked spaces, we are accessing a “controlled infrastructure motivated by corporate profits”. So when we post these images of ourselves to be seen and heard more clearly by our networks, we are also participating in corporate-controlled spaces that ultimately profit off of the fact that we ant to project these images of ourselves to our networks using their bandwidth.
As I mentioned in my last post, the tension I want to explore is that our digital identities (as much as we think we control them completely) are fundamentally shaped by the profiles we generate by our participation on networks, sharing our content and subsequently our data – so that our digital experience (and life experience?), digital identities and real identities are in fact shaped by capitalist, materialist, and ad-driven culture. The selfie it turns out, is a perfect symbol of this, portraying the reflection we so desperately want others to see of us, yet generating content for platforms that also collect our data, and our image, and use it however they want. I actually remember the day Instagram got bought by Facebook and everyone had to sign a new privacy agreement that the photos, tags, usage info, geolocation and pretty much anything you put into the app was then owned by Instagram (originally you owned it) and could be used however they wanted.
The final bit of research I wanted to do before moving forward was looking more into rhetoric around sharing culture. I believe that as great as the internet is, it is fundamentally a system that is driven by deriving value from our activity and connections. I think that this has always somewhat been the case, but as mobile media becomes more intimately acquainted with our lives and whereabouts, something that has increased tenfold and as such, has a magnified impact upon our day to day life. The problem is that all of our cultural outlets promote and/or require participation in this system.
I read a very interesting piece Wikinomics and Its Discontents: a critical analysis of Web 2.0 business manifestos that explored this rhetoric in depth, and offered some great insights. One thing they pointed out is that is that another author Fred Turner argued that in cyberculture, “the rhetoric of the counterculture always has been intimately wedded to the rhetoric of capitalism.” Since the beginning of the internet, internet business manifestos herald a new age of “communalism, collaboration, and creative sharing” that are supposed to win out ver purely consumerist values. This is evident in that some of the most “mass creativity” that has occurred is a result of hype from a networking activity – heavily pushed by commercially driven social platforms and aggregation algorithms.
User generated content is “the lifeblood of the business” and value creation shifts from the idea of selling a product to networking active “co-creators”. At the end of the day, consumers turn into producers and leisure turns into a form of working, constantly sharing, rating, blogging and engaging with a variety of brands all day long.
“Most e-communities are actually thinly disguised entertainment platforms (YouTube, Hyves, The Sims , Last.fm) or product-exchange markets (eBay, Amazon) where people come together to find someone or something to do…
Every user who contributes content – and for tha tmatter, every passive spectator who clicks on user-generated content sites (such as YouTube) or social networking sites (such as Facebook) – provides valuable information about themselve and their preferred intersts, yet they have no control whatsoever over what information is extracted from their clicking behavior and how this information is processed and disseminated.“
At the end of the day, it isn’t our selfie, our user-generated content that these “communal sharing co-collaboration” platforms care about, its the connections and profiled actions that become the new commodities. We become the commodities. “Mass creativity is solidly entrenched in information capitalism.” However, the technical protocols that extract and analyze this data – aggregation sites, linking algorithms, ranking systems – are beyond most people’s day to day care or comprehension. Most people don’t know what happens (and don’t care to know) after they upload/download content. The rhetoric of our day does not critique the hidden magic of our linked profiles, streamlined and convenient experience, and cultivated user interface, generated by our every action on sharing sites and increasingly our mobile devices and apps. Our culture instead proclaims that “the spirits of commonality are finally merged with the interests of capitalism.” Well… what interests are those?
“This is the power of technologies and regulatory systems governing our everyday lives and defining individual identities vis-a-vis collective identities.”
At the end of the day, we may think we are projecting a certain self-image, a hybrid self-brand our mundane material existence made extraordinary through the filters, lenses, screens, linking and geo-tagging of our devices and apps. But really, these sites/networks/apps exist to allows us the opportunity to provide our information, whereabouts, preferences, likes, dislikes, networks and even our biometric data lately. If this is the case, which identity becomes most real, both digitally and in the flesh, the one we seek to project through our selfies and user-generated content, or the ones our very participation on these platforms reveals?
I read one final piece in Medica, Culture and Society, “Users like You? Theorizing Agency in User-Generated Content” that summed up exactly how I feel in one nice passage, and is the basis for why I am creating this critical design piece. This is what I want to show. Once you share your content, you are sharing your data, and it is out of your control.
“…it is crucial to understand the new role of users both as content providers and as data providers. Besides uploading content, users also willingly and unknowingly provide important information about their profile and behaviour to site owners and metadata aggregators. Before users can actually contribute uploads or comments to a site, they usually have to register with their anme, email address, and sometimes more personal information such as gender, age, nationality, or income.
Metadata can be mined for various purposes, from targeted advertising to interface optimization, but the bottom line is that users have no power over their data distribution…”
Refined Research Question
I want to explore how we create hybrid virtual/real identities through sharing user-generated content and participating in online networks that are ultimately controlled by corporate capitalists interests.
I want to better understand how we define our sense of self through what we share versus how the data we provide – by creating shareable content -begins to define our digital and real experience as corporately controlled platforms and advertisers increasingly shape our experience based on our past behavior, perceived interests, networks, and assumed social status.
So not too different than my original research questions, just delivered through a selfie app vs. a mirror app.
New App Features (Refined from Old Version)
- This is still a critical design piece featuring an extrapolation of what selfie apps could become in the future.
- In order to edit ones selfie – to apply filters, add stickers, make adjustments – the user must answer questions about themselves. Since the app is free, this is how they derive value for the developer and can continue using it. Nothing comes free in the future.
- As the user answer questions, all information is stored and compiled.
- User experience changes based on questions answered. Stickers are updated according to perceived preference of user (martini glass, purse, lipstick, cigarette etc.)
- When sharing the final selfie, the data that was collected goes with it. This will either be as a comment, tag, or directly on the image.
- Potentially, a generated category will be added based on the user questions eg. “Communist”, “Shopaholic”, “Drunk” etc.
Layout Prototype Mockup
Here is a modified prototype I’ve been sharing with my family and friends over Thanksgiving break. It’s not interactive like the past ones as I’m trying to quickly work through this round, get maximum feedback, and start building out this app to see what is even possible with my skill level of the features listed above.
Next Steps – Building out the App in Swift
Goal 1 – Build App that Can Take/Share Photos & Add Filter
Goal 2 – Add lock to filters so that questions must be asked. Store question answers in app.
Goal 3 – Connect app to facebook, set collected question answers as default text in comment with filler text that makes complete sentence.
Goal 4 – Create stickers library & allow user to add to app. Programmatically add stickers as questions are selected based on the input.
Goal 5 – Make it look pretty.