The way we consume and interact with media has changed rapidly over the past few decades, and consequently, the way it influences us has changed too. In the postmodern narcissistic ‘Me-World’, not only is the way we experience reality mediated, but so are our own thoughts and experiences.
It seems like everyone is becoming micro-celebrities and joining in a perpetual quest for fame. However, the desire to be well-known is not a new one – it is a primordial desire, inherent in humans. In tribes everyone was known by everybody else, and the over time, as individuals became increasingly anonymous in their communities, so they were restricted from satisfying this basic desire. When we look at the technology of today, and how it is being used, we must ask: has the technology simply caught up with this desire, creating conditions for its fulfilment? Or has it, to some extent at least, caused this desire to grow? As David Armano asks, could we in fact be going full circle?
Thomas de Zengotita suggests in his book, Mediated: How the Media Shapes Your World, that even while an event is happening, we start framing it for our audience, creating a narrative of how we are going to re-tell the story. He says mediation is the postmodern condition, and that the all-encompassing ‘Blob’ of media representations ‘flatters’ us by fighting for our attention and constantly addressing us. In turn, we have been made more aware of ourselves and have become increasingly self-reflexive.
The rise of reality shows in the 2000s has been phenomenal. What this reality offers is a taste of reality ‘represented’ in an appealing way. Ironically, this ‘appeal’ often lies within the very same narratives and discourse as the purely fictional programming of the past. The vast amount of editing necessary to make an episode of Big Brother or Survivor even slightly exciting is huge (like the time that needs to be spent to make one’s personal life seem exciting on Facebook) – but the finished product has the ability to attract millions of viewers. Perhaps the large amount of time one spends consuming packaged ‘realities’ has made the real world seem increasingly dull over time.
De Zengotita’s suggestion- that as postmodern individuals we constantly ‘frame’ events, thus mediating our own experiences- makes sense against this backdrop. He says our habit of framing is so developed that it is almost impossible to have real ‘authentic’ experiences. Holidays or visiting the wilderness are all framed as how we are going to tell them when we get home, pictures are taken for display on Facebook, and the whole excursion becomes a setting for a narrative we live partially and create partially.
Identity creation in the ‘new reality’
In the past, our identities have, to a large extent, been formed through a process of learning, copying and mimicking our elders. In a saturated media environment, there is a jungle of media from which to forge our identities, and we create them from virtual representations of a never-ending array of options. We mould our identities through media and the products we buy, aren’t limited to ‘one’ identity, and, we can change our identity as often as we like.
Now, with tools like YouTube and Facebook at our disposable, and a plethora of publishing platforms and technologies accessible to millions of people, it’s interesting to consider whether it is our old, inherent desires that are being fulfilled on a higher level, or rather, new desires that have evolved in a postmodern society.
With devices like the iPod, we have a constant ‘soundtrack’ of our lives; Facebook, Twitter and YouTube give us a platform to display ourselves to our always growing ‘audience’ and with PhotoShop and editing tools we can ensure that we tailor each image to our hyper self-conscious satisfaction. The future? NEC is developing a ‘Life Recording Interface’, called ‘dew’ that records and stores memories and impressions of the wearer’s life. It is described as ‘a lifestyle device’ that ‘using emotional recognition through vocal rhythms and gesture recognition by hand motions, the camera catches fun and special memories’. A server saves the scenes in real time. This may still be in development, but ‘lifecasting’ is not – have a look at justin tv, one the most successful lifecasting web servers. Because it is live, it provides an added element of reality, yet one can no doubt expect the subjects to be acting throughout their performance – despite how much of their lives they record.
Justin’s Helmet Principle
There is often a tendency to romanticise the past and look harshly at the present. There are two groups of people with strong opinions about the media, those who say it’s used as a tool by ‘big brother’ to manipulate and deceive us; and those who emphasize the opportunities and amazing capacity of the media for good. De Zengotita explains that both sides have some element of truth to them, but at the end of the day, the media gives us options that we are better off with than without.
Justin’s Helmet refers to the huge bicycle helmets that parents put on their little kids (along with other protective gear). To many people, there seems to just be something wrong with this – almost as if your depriving your child of the authentic ‘bicycle experience’ by padding them up so they don’t get injured. We think of when we were kids and rode freely around the neighbourhood, no helmet, falling from time to time – “but that’s all part of the ‘experience’”. Yet, really, the helmet is something we would probably all opt for if it was our child on the bicycle.
What De Zengotita means by this is that his theories are not there to warn or scare people, they are merely reflections of how the way humans live their lives has changed: there is no way of stopping the ‘blob’ – and if we had to choose to live in this world or another past era, with its own set of problems we’ve long since solved, like the helmet, we would opt to keep the one we have.