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Increasing conformity

The selfie culture threatens to reduce us to marketing agents of our social-media personality, two German authors believe.


Two German journalists have recently published a book about the selfie generation. Do we need another book that tries to define generations? The answer is an unconditional yes, even though the book is partly trying to compete with Michael Nasts Generational coexistence, which has already gone into eight issues this year. The same age group is in focus, but Eva Oer and Christian Cohrs concentrate on this generation's digital life. The age group has also been called generation Y or "millenials": those born between 1980 and 2000. This generation is "digital natives": unlike the previous ones, they are splashed with digital technology. The age group constantly posts various information about themselves on different platforms: snapshots, anecdotes, information about new places of residence and details of their own body. Each selfie is a facet or fragment that together creates a digital alter ego.

Oer and Cohrs even belong to the older part of the generation they write about. Although Eva Oer took art in 2004, she can now write nostalgically about that time anno dazumal there were neither mobile phones with camera nor Facebook. The tone of the book is consistently critical, but not exclusively negative. For example, the authors distance themselves from a total condemnation of selfies as an expression of narcissism: It is also about positive communication of experiences and emotions. The strength lies in the many perspectives and interesting examples.

The authors claim that the documentation imperative has become the constitution in the digital world: "pics or it didn't happen". This has led to people trying to outdo each other not only in creativity but also in risky selfie production. In September 2015, the Mashable website reported that for the first time in history, more people died of selfies than shark attacks. A Japanese tourist lost his life after falling down the stairs as he tried to take a selfie at Taj Mahal.

But the selfies do not have to be authentic at all. The artist Amalia Ulman (b. 1989) created an art figure on social media in 2014 that documented how she tried to make a career in Los Angeles. No cliché was left out: Flights, nights in hotel rooms, sugardaddy, drugs, breast implants and nervous breakdowns. Unfolded for 90 followers on Instagram. But then she revealed that the whole story was a simulation, a performance called Excelleces & Perfections.

Holiday selfies can also be faked. Dutch artist Zilla van den Born (b. 1989) cheated friends and family when she made them believe that she sent pictures from a holiday trip in the Far East. The photographs were in fact selfies mounted in pictures downloaded from the internet.

Another type of documentation are the consumer exhibitionist "unboxing" videos: YouTube is teetering on clips of teenagers commenting on the contents of their shopping bags. A child unpacking a New Spiderman battery-powered toy car has received 142 million hits on YouTube. The boundaries between selfies and advertising are fluid. In Norway, we also have bloggers who are good at marketing, for example Sophie Elise Isachsen, Anna Rasmussen and Caroline Berg Eriksen. "When you sell yourself with skin and hair, then you have made a career," notes the German journalists laconically.

Many are now enslaved by their own profile on social media. Soon we only interact through digital masks.

The training selfies are a genre of their own, and then you show before-and-after selfies. The queen in this field is according to the book Kayla Itsines who founded The Bikini Body Training Company and markets Bikini Body Guides. Generation Selfie submits to the body the most absurd ideals, such as the "bellybutton challenge": One should be able to wrap his arm around his back and then touch his navel, which is impossible for most people. The ascetic and inhumane ideals of exercise and slim selfies dialectically change in contrast to the phenomenon of "food porn selfies".

Food pictures, "food-pics", show the world who we are, how we think and what we believe in. Food-pics are indirectly selfier. You no longer prepare the food first and then eat it. First you have to google and consult blogs. Then the food is prepared, which is then photographed and posted on Instagram. Only then can one eat. The term "foodie" has now replaced the word "gourmet". The selfie generation's passion for food is best described by the term "foodporn," according to the authors. Food porn is the center of a sinful and seductive world where sensuality and total devotion to pleasure are celebrated.

Lifehacks are tricks that will make us productive. "Morning Routine" has become a new type of selfie. American CEOs, like Tesla boss Elon Musk, get up at 04.30:XNUMX and divide the day into five-minute chunks to be as efficient as possible. Social media becomes a propaganda machine for the myth of a more effective life.

The acronym "fomo", "fear of missing out", denotes an important aspect of online addiction: If you go offline for too long, you miss a lot. On the other hand, offline experiences can be transformed into selfies about "digital detox" – the media addict's "cold turkey".

Media researcher Sherry Turkle claimed in the book Alone Together (2011) that despite many "friends" online, the students felt she was asking herself more lonely than ever. Social media has made it more difficult to conduct face-to-face conversations, Turkle argued further Reclaiming Conversation. The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (2015). A split is created between a digitally idealized self and a real self.

This is suspiciously similar to what Ronald D. Laing described The Divided Self (1957) long before the digitization, about how a "false self system" came in contrast to an inner self. Many are now enslaved by their own profile on social media. Soon we only interact through digital masks. In the science fiction movie Surrogates (2009) starring Bruce Willis, humans lay in bed and traded via robots.

Everything can be "shared", and this sharing means increasing democratization. The back of the medal is increasing conformity.

The digital life is different from the real. Australian Essena O'Neill (b. 1996) announced to her many followers on YouTube and Instagram a year ago that she withdrew from the business. The selfies she had posted were studious and the result of dozens of attempts. She had posed in sports equipment but never practiced. Companies she had partnered with sent her exact instructions on what to say about a particular product. The staging wiped out her self. Essena told tearfully about all the phony in the work of building a perfect online person. For example, a "sincere" "bikini shot" was revealed as "contrived perfection".

One can consider the selfie as part of puberty. Everyone feels insecure and has an urge to experiment with expressions of a certain age. Then it is fun to dress up, and the girls try mum's makeup cases. Teens believe that their surroundings are as concerned with them as they are by themselves, according to renowned psychologist David Elkind. Everyone thinks that they are being observed themselves. When they meet, they act like actors. But those who have tried to convey Elkind's theory on social media have had problems: Unlike Elkind's teens, our "digital natives" of our time do not end up seeing themselves as the center of the world.

Another pathological phenomenon is the hysterical excitement when you have said or done something wrong on social media. Justine Sacco, who worked as a public relations consultant for an internet company, posted a bad joke in 2013: "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white! ” No reaction; she only had 170 followers on Twitter. Then she got on the plane to visit her family in South Africa. When she landed in Cape Town, her life was turned upside down: The net cooked. Sacco was portrayed as the incarnation of evil, the ultimate white racist. She lost her job and received threats of murder and rape. The phenomenon is called "public shaming". Often it is a coincidence who "the shit storm" hits.

The authors conclude that the selfie culture threatens to reduce us to marketing agents of our social media personality. Self-determination is quickly transformed into a trademark for one's own ego in the competition for who has the most "followers" and "likes". The authors are depressed that economic logic is spreading to all walks of life. What can be done? Staying away from social media is social suicide. Could a digital assistant automatically manage internet friendships? Harvey Wilks described how he outsourced his presence on social media to a virtual assistant for 48 hours. The article turned out to be satirical.

A third way, the authors believe, is to curb the struggle for recognition and feedback. One must learn to cope without constant confirmation, freeing himself from the fixation on positive feedback. Everything can be "shared", and this sharing means increasing democratization. The back of the medal is increasing conformity.

The German journalists hope that social networks can be rediscovered, that they can be recreated as experimental spaces for ourselves that are not instrumental. The selfie can be anything other than advertising the product "I".

In the autumn debate about the reality literature, few parallels have been drawn to the selfie culture on social media. An honorable exception is the author Torgrim Eggen, who in Dagens Næringsliv October 1 under the title "Det suser in selfie" thinks "the selfie novel" is "about to destroy all contemporary fiction". The blurring of the relationship of advertising and self-portrait becomes analogous to the relationship between fiction and reality. Authenticity is still being produced which is then revealed. We believe, and then become disillusioned, dazzled by the presence: I am here now!

Regardless of how one should judge reality literature, Eggen is undeniably right in parallel with social media. In 2010, when Knausgård was in the middle of My fightproject, Apple also came with Iphone 4, the first model that had a second camera on the display side. This allowed users to see themselves on the display, which increased the chance of taking selfies where the whole face came with. The rest is history.

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Eivind Tjønneland
Historian of ideas and author.

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