Is it really all that bad?

On: October 25, 2010
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About Agathe Wiedemair
It all starts in Vienna. I was born there. 25 years ago. Lived in the beautiful (yet a bit conventional) capital of Austria for about 19 years and then decided to leave. I have always been haunted by the desire to leave my hometown, explore new terrains, and get out of my comfort zone. I moved to Urbana-Champaign, IL (google it...I had to as well) to get a Bachelor degree in New Media at the University of Illinois. Why Illinois? Many reasons: Besides their fantastic Media Studies program and a man, I had my mind set on witnessing a tornado. It never happened. I had a wonderful time nevertheless. After moving back to Vienna I barely made it through one year until I got itchy feet again. The choice was between Chicago and Amsterdam, and I decided to go for the one I was more curious about: Amsterdam! So here I am. No tornadoes, but very likely equally windy as Chicago. For those of you who need hard facts: Interests/Hobbies: Electronic music, traveling, running, psychological patterns, group dynamics, cross-cultural interaction, identity in new media culture Degrees: Bachelor in Media Studies (2008), Bachelor in Communications and Journalism (2007)


A recent Vancouver Sun article about the documentary Catfish, brings up an arguable and in vogue topic. One that commonly seems to be brought up quiet often about the rising popularity of social media platforms: What are the (psychological) dynamics between the viewer versus the viewed, and how do these impact our (online) identity?

According to the article:

We are all watching each other watch ourselves. We are all, to some extent, performing.

Or as Canadian cultural critic Hal Niedzviecki would says, with new media technologies on the rise, we have moved from pop to peep culture. A society where displaying and observing each others exposure on social media has become a significant element of daily life. We are dealing with a form of normalized voyeurism and willingness for self-exposure that we can act out online.

Catfish is a documentary that illustrates and explores the above phenomena. The movie follows Nev, a young New York photographer into an unsettling online romance. The film’s reviews are pretentious, pointing out the relevance, danger and importance of the film’s theme in nowadays times. They appear to gladly pick up on the horrors of social media platforms, without questioning the authenticity of the film. Even less do they take an honest attempt to flip the coin and view it’s backside.

But what if the peep culture that we are dealing with is nothing new to human culture? What if the scares that are created about facebook and social media are  exaggerated through movies like Catfish? Perhaps these themes are not new, but only so appealing because our nature and our self is shaped by urges like voyeurism, self-performance and exhibitionism. These are themes that have been around for as long as humans socialized, built groups, cultures and networks. People who have lived in tight knit communities or villages know what I am talking about: everyone knows everybody’s business. Perhaps through social platforms we have just found new channels to act out these primal needs. Is it valid to put forth then, that what is new is not the underlying behavioral patterns, but rather the medium that redefines the parameter and rules by which we can act and perform as social beings? Are we creating a faux hype?

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