Producing Versions of Our/Selves: Reflections on a ‘Welcome Video’

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.

Macbeth screenshot
Screenshot from unpublished 1998 video

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.

Disconnected by Gauthier DELECROIX - 郭天
Disconnected by Gauthier DELECROIX – 郭天 (

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.

Selfie by David Phan
Selfie by David Phan (CC BY 2.0)

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…

Enjoy 🙂

 

Reference:

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.

 

Featured image: first multiplicity by Rach (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. Jonathan Hall says:

    Hey Adam – Great post thanks!

  2. Ricky Wright says:

    Thanks for the upbeat, refreshing perspective on selfies.

    Also, I think it’s worth remembering that Social Media is in the business of exchanging and selling those selves we create. This is not a criticism of the selfie culture, not socialist propaganda, and not dystopian, and I agree with what Adam is saying even though I recently wrote a post entitled “Narcissism, and the Poltergeist in the Machine”.

    The criticism is in the way technology social media technology is deployed, to get us to share and turn us into a commodity for sale. During my time studying Social Media (ALM101), I’m going to do my best to actively encourage people to add an extension to their browser which hides the number of likes is attached to posts and people in FB and Twitter. I’m interested to hear if hiding these metrics helps people connect on a human level. Using the extension also stops these mechanisms which are designed to create popularity anxiety. #nometrics

    Social media definitely wants us to share ourselves because we are the commodity it uses for its exchange. But the good news is we can easily take back the digital zone for the humans.

  3. Adam Brown says:

    Thanks for reading Ricky – I certainly agree that the commodification of the online self is something to take into account, though this is also intertwined with the fact people are empowered (i.e. can empower themselves) through these processes. I’m a bit skeptical re. the widely perceived damage done by likes and other numbers (and can’t separate them from the facets that make up ‘human connection’); I certainly don’t see them translating into the kind of value some perceive them to have. As you suggest, engagement is key, and the only people I’ve heard from who bought a larger number of ‘followers’ have regretted it… Thanks for engaging with the blog! 🙂

  4. Ricky Wright says:

    Sure. And I think your video is a good example of being empowered by social media over being used by it.

  5. Paul says:

    I can see the benefits for personal and professional growth regarding communication skills, but I wonder are we producing a presence which represents our true self or something we want others to perceive? Are things like Facebook anything more than an extension of the old holiday photo snaps? e.g. see what I’ve been up to. I think ALM 101 is going to throw up some challenges for those of us that tend to hide from the spot light.

    1. Adam Brown says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting Paul! As I’m sure you’ll find throughout the trimester, we tend to unpack and unpick the notion of the ‘true self’, so I’m sure you’ll enjoy some of the topics coming up – lots of food for thought and debate! While Facebook itself has been promoting a one-profile-for-one-person practice during the ‘Nymwars’ (worth googling if you’re interested), I notice even they now more easily support flicking between different accounts (I’d say I have multiple personas within the same account, and really only use FB professionally). As for those who’ve practiced less ‘visibility’ in the past, I hope the unit gives students an opportunity to experiment and play around in a collegial environment. There’s nothing wrong with using a pseudonym if you’re totally against using your real name, but pushing yourself out of your comfort zone in some (potentially other) ways will be really valuable… Cheers for engaging! 🙂

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