At some point while I was putting together my latest ‘Welcome Video’ for students, the following thought occurred to me: ‘Bloody hell, there’s a lot of you in this video!’ And by ‘you,’ of course, I meant me. This was perhaps particularly striking to me because I was filming myself again and again in different settings while introducing myself by name. I remember being vaguely concerned that, with its focus being so much on being/playing ‘Adam Brown,’ the video would turn out to seem to some degree egocentric, narcissistic, or whatever the word of the day is). I guess some audience members may well feel that way (after all, here I am writing a blog post about it!), but the impression I’ve gotten from those who’ve watched it already is that it’s readily accepted as acceptable to do this kind of thing. Talking about yourself is, after all, par for the course when it comes to YouTube.
I started making videos (in analogue form) in Year 10 or Year 11 of high school, when my brother and I would escape the mandatory oral presentations we despised by inventing our own video option to show to the class. It was a hell of a lot more fun than speaking from palm cards, and it allowed us (or at least me) to escape the then terrifying prospect of speaking in public. Sure, my brother and I put a lot of ourselves into those videos – it was always us onscreen (and maybe our sister or a friend we could drag into the frame as well), but it was never really ‘about us.’ Back then, in the 1990s (i.e. the 20th century!), I don’t think we would have even considered making a video like the one I just made – one that drew attention to ourselves as ourselves so explicitly as to seemingly shout out again and again, ‘Look at me! Look at me!’ In fact, we almost always played ‘other people’ in our video assignments.
Now, reflecting on my brief hesitation in designing this Welcome Video, I realise that this all fits within the broader shift in contemporary (digital) media culture. As Professor of Internet Studies Matthew Allen said in a previous video I made:
The internet, by redistributing the means of producing information about ourselves – and let’s face it, in the contemporary world most media does seem to be about personalities, not about things – now we are experiencing ourselves not so much as an audience, but as the product itself… [T]he person is now the media product, and we experience ourselves and who we are as, if you like, the producers of ourselves, and then turn around and we are the audiences for other people like ourselves.
It’s fascinating how much – and how quickly – we’ve come to accept the normality of ‘making media about me.’ Of course, a vocal segment of society continues to shout down the present day (social) media environment as one that is fundamentally narcissistic at its heart, but negative value judgements are not the only possible response here. The more I look at – and, more importantly, engage with – the online world, the less persuasive I think that dystopian response is.
I remember when I first came across the ‘Media Studies 2.0‘ approach, I was also reading about the concept ‘me-media’, which given the very names of social media platforms like YouTube and WeChat, is in many ways a very apt term. Highlighting how the ‘me media‘ aspects of the online world intersect with processes of convergence and ‘subvert the “old media” relationship between producer and consumer’, David Bell contends that ‘this new hybrid space potentially rewrites forms and experiences of technologically mediated sociality’ (2009, p. 37).
A lot of what I get students to do in units I teach is to explore and experience this space, which open up endless potentialities for personal and professional development – and also entail certain inevitable risks that need to be strategically negotiated. Social media has its problems and pitfalls, but it also has its power. Unlike the photograph above, I won’t make a flippant judgement about someone I see using their phone or taking a selfie. They could well be in the process of being very connected.
I don’t think I would have been quite as comfortable drawing attention to the me/s on screen when I made my first Welcome Video back in 2013 (although I probably did a fair bit of that there given the approach I took), but it’s fitting that I start this way here, because being producers of ourselves is in large part what the units I’m teaching are all about. In many ways, we are now the ‘product’, and we need to know how to ‘package’ ourselves critically, creatively, and above all strategically for when we send ourselves out there into the world – which is, in fact, all of the time.
Now, if you’re still reading about me making videos about me, you may watch the Welcome Video…
Bell, D 2009, ‘On the net: navigating the World Wide Web’, in Creeber, G and Martin, R (eds.), Digital Cultures: Understanding New Media, Open University Press, Maidenhead, pp. 31-45.