Why do we feel the need to create a ‘finsta’? (For those of you that don’t know, a ‘finsta’ is a ‘fake insta’, which is in comparison to your ‘rinsta’ aka ‘real insta’). I created mine because I wanted to post ugly selfies and rant about my day without having to glamorize myself to the rest of my followers. It was an easy and convenient way for ‘true’ self expression, and I’d only let my closest friends follow my finsta so they already knew what to expect. But the finsta phenomena exposes a whole darker side of our society in relation to media. Humdog’s reading “pandora’s vox: on community in cyberspace” really got me thinking about this aspect of our lives– how the need to look pretty and always at our best stops us from revealing ourselves so much that we feel the need to create something with such a ridiculous name as “finsta” to express our full range of emotion.
Humdog’s (Carmen Hermosillo) main argument in her piece states that the result of computer networks has led to a commodification of personality rather than a reduction in hierarchy like it originally intended to. She also states that the cyberspace has led to a complex transfer of information to large companies (information that makes us the commodity). She places cyberspace as a place for human interaction that “absorbs energy and personality and re-presents it as a spectacle”. Through this narrative, humdog brings very important points forth, namely– 1) the dissolution of identity in terms of gender, race, ethnicity etc, to commodify oneself, 2) the illusion of freedom of speech and 3) the idea of social, eco-greenness, and the assumption of technological determinism.
According to humdog, “western society has a problem with appearance and reality. it keeps wanting to split them off from each other, make one more real than the other, invest one with more meaning than it does the other.” The irony in her point hit me very strongly– the fact that we try to make our virtual social selves more authentic than our actual selves. But what makes us this way? Where is the unwritten rule that people’s Instagram’s always have to be pretty? Why do we delete pictures off our social media if we don’t get a certain amount of likes? Why do we need a certain number of followers for social validation? Perhaps it stems from how western society conditions us to think that, in humdog’s words, it has a problem with our appearance which invariably makes us split them off and work harder on the social one.
But my initial question remains– why do we create alternative, ‘better’ personas of ourselves? Maybe it is a subconscious result of commercial advertising that propels us in a way that makes us do this to commodify ourselves. Humdog mentions that commercial advertising sells us a ‘fetish’ that generalizes from one group of people to a representative who sells us this ‘solution to all problems’. What if big companies that thrive on our information and rely on us commodifying ourselves for social validation lay these traps for them to capitalise on? This also links to her point about sign-value versus worth-value. Sign-value is how much social status an item yields and worth-value is its literal stated economic value on the market– thereby for us our social media self is a sign-value, whereas for companies it is a worth-value.
Humdog then directs the narrative to discuss what I like to call the ‘illusion of free speech’ that we assume we have in our society today. She states that “to the mass, the debate about freedom of expression exists only in terms of whether or not you can say fuck or look at sexually explicit pictures.” This is a very powerful statement to make especially in the context of the dynamic political and social environment– when the debate of surveillance and free speech in the cyberspace, especially in the 2016 elections was so prominent. But even on a more basic level, do we really have free speech in the way we want to communicate ourselves?
I already discussed the social media phenomenon- where we cannot freely express ourselves so we create things like finstas. On a more political scale however, our speech isn’t really free on social media either is it? What about when it comes to surveillance and actual crimes? In a world where we have to wipe our social media clean of controversial things because we are monitored not only by potential employers but also by the FBI and police, we are really driven to reinvent our best selves right? We live in a world where people can be told what to say and what not to say about the President in the United States, or arrested for questioning the local government in India. I think Donald Trump Jr.’s tweet sums this up well– https://twitter.com/donaldjtrumpjr/status/327411826465832961?lang=en.
Humdog categorizes the “ideology of electronic community” into three elements– “first, the idea of the social; second, eco-greenness; and lastly, the assumption that technology equals progress in a kind of nineteenth century sense.” She states that “the electronic communities encourage participation in fragmented, mostly silent, micro groups who are primarily engaged in dialogues of self-congratulation”– perhaps something similar to Twitter, which is often described as a platform to have a conversation with yourself and wait for someone to jump in. Second, she talks about the concept of eco-green, something I found very fascinating. She equates Americans to having Calvinist values when it comes to eco-greenness, extending the metaphor of predestination in Calvinism. In Calvinism, the belief is that it is already decided who is going to heaven and who is going to hell. However, people still operate under the assumption that they are going to heaven so as to not sin– in the same way we know our planet is beyond redemption but we continue to do eco-friendly things because we operate under this assumption that we can save it and this small everyday effort gives us an illusory happiness. Lastly, her debate about technological determinism overlooks the theme of the entire post– the nineteenth century thinker would’ve assumed that technology was the epitome of progress however humdog is entirely against it.
Lastly, I want to bring up Humdog’s point that “proponents of cyber- community do not often mention that these conferencing systems are rarely culturally or ethnically diverse”. This statement and her discussion of gender exclusivity reminded me of this instance– when a HP computer couldn’t recognize a black man but could place a white woman. It raises an important point of why facial recognition AI, a low-grade automation, is racially biased.
I’d like to end with a quote that completes the circle for this discussion and is something that really left me stumped–”the electronic community leaves a permanent record which is open to scrutiny while maintaining an illusion of transience.”
In the meantime, give my love to the FBI 😉