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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Attention! Attention! See Me Right Now!

Narcissus Is Let Loose Among Us

I chanced across Look at Me, World! Self-Portraits Morph Into Internet Movies in March 18, 2007 New York Times (free registration required). It was an article about art, the evolution of art, and the democratization of the process of creating art through digital photography.

Noah Kalina’s "Everyday", a movie that is composed of 2,356 daily self-portraits shot from Jan. 11, 2000, to July 31, 2006, was selected for the exhibition "We're All Photographers Now", on display at the Musee de l’Elysee in Lausanne, Switzerland.

William Ewing, director of the museum, commented,
"Digital technology, computers, software and the Internet multiply the number of people with access to taking and viewing pictures. Once you buy the camera, there are almost no other costs. That is increasing the variety and creativity in how people take pictures, and what they do with them."

Tens of thousands of viewers and links have accumulated around Kalina's movie. And hundreds of similar movies, with their accumulations of thousands of links and viewers, are out there.

Jonathan Lipkin, a professor of digital media at Ramapo College in New Jersey (and author of "Photography Reborn") commented,
"The hallmarks of the new age of digital imagery are distribution, combination and manipulation. The use of digital technology is especially revealing in portraiture. The digital camera has changed the genre."

Lipkin continued,
"Digital technology has changed what portraits look like. If you pay attention to Facebook, MySpace, Flickr and the other social Internet sites, you see right away..."

See what right away? Lipkin says, " stylized the portraits are."

What I see right away is different. I see obsession with self -- as a substitute for self-awareness -- running amok through our "youth culture". What's disturbing is that whether it's YouTube, AtomFilms, MySpace, or Photo Bucket, young people are seeing that it's stimulating to put yourself on display, even if you have nothing really to say other than that you are there. And, it's so easy...

I love art, and I'm all for the democratization of creating and consuming art. I'm not trying to answer (or even ask) the question "Is this really art?"

I'm after a different question entirely:
  • Is the young person's drive to exhibit him- or herself more potentially dangerous and damaging now than it was before the Internet?
If so, I suggest that this trend is one more reason that our old parenting techniques need an update.

Before the Internet, we didn't really have to worry that a teen's self-absorption would escalate to full-blown self-obsession through a system of global, peer reinforcement.

Today, however, we very much have to. More and more kids (and adults) are indulging in self-obsessive behavior (because, hey, it's easy!), and more and more of us, first as voyeurs, are observing that it's "the in-thing to do", and then, falling into it ourselves. Peer-reinforced behavior. Not just kids, but both kids and adults, reinforcing both kids and adults.

Realizing that the "hallmarks of digital imagery are distribution, combination and manipulation," and that "once you buy the camera, there are almost no other costs", we find a perfect recipe for kids to experiment with, using the Internet as their audience.

As I'm fond of saying, technology companies invent the tools of the future, then kids take those tools and invent the culture of the future.

So, I guess the real questions are, "Are kids creating a culture in which narcissism is a virtue, and considered an art?" and "Is that healthy?"

What do you think? Am I missing the point? Just too old to be hip? For that matter, is this blog just a different form of narcissism? Comments, please.


  • John, you asked: "Are kids creating a culture in which narcissism is a virtue?"

    No, that has always existed. It is just that hte internet has created a new and more public medium to act out ones tendancies.

    By Blogger Keith Richmond, at March 21, 2007 12:14 PM  

  • I think you are making an interesting point in the short term. Longer term though I think we'll see that this phase you identify as Internet enabled narcissism is actually just people getting excited about new capabilities, like new toys, new anything really. Once we settle down 2 generations from now and have the Internet as our basic alternative infrastructure then I think we will see more measured, creative, quality use and participation patterns emerging. The people who will be leading that phase and those that follow will be Digital Amphibians
    i.e., people who are as comfortable and as proficient in digital space as they are in physical space. The ride is just beginning!

    By Anonymous Ian, at March 21, 2007 8:08 PM  

  • Hello, I am the marketing manager for AtomFilms and I saw that we were mentioned in this article. Please note that AtomFilms is not a user-generated website. We do not let anyone upload videos to our site. We host independent films that have been selected or pre-screened by our content department. Our differentiation is that you will not find such videos as discussed in this article on our site. Our site is for the kids who are more serious in film creating and produce a quality or entertaining film down the road.
    Thank you!
    Marketing Manager, AtomFilms

    By Blogger Sarah, at March 22, 2007 12:02 PM  

  • Sarah -
    Thank you for the clarification regarding AtomFilms. I mentioned AtomFilms because Ahree Lee's film, "Me" is posted there. I should have been more specific, and cited her work. Note to all: Ms. Lee also posted her film to YouTube.

    The fact that these kinds of films are being selected by critics as art is interesting. I apologize for improperly characterizing AtomFilms.

    Ian, Keith,
    Thanks for your thoughts here. I perceive that we are witnessing an avalanche of "self", whether through avant garde, indie, or amateur expressions, enabled by the power of digital imaging and the Internet. Indeed, the desire has always been there. But as you say, Keith, the medium has created the opportunity. Have we now enabled it in a way that surrendering to it, more than just easier, becomes a self-reinforcing cultural norm or virtue?

    Ian, how about: "Does this trend create more dangers for the vulnerable and impressionable (esp. kids) among us today?" (Two generations from now, we'll have plenty of other pots of hot water for our kids to stick their hands into... ;-)

    Ian, your point about settling down in a couple of generations is relevant in another way, and relates to my previous post about the need to evolve. I'm reminded of a quote from Ms. Miller, my 10th grade biology teacher, who pointed out that in nature, evolution goes through its own period of excess. I'll forever remember her exclamation that, "Once Nature discovered jointed appendages, she went CRAZY with jointed appendages!" Creatures emerged with 10s and 100s of jointed arms/legs. Eventually, nature settled down to a couple of major successes (4 and 6 for animals and insects respectively), with a few outlyers (crustaceans, spiders, millipedes).

    Perhaps Nature gives us a proof point for solace. But in the mean time, we have kids out there in the evolutionary test-tube. And we parents are right in there with them...!

    By Blogger John Carosella, at March 22, 2007 2:40 PM  

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