What is in your bag or what have you wore today?
A very popular group on Flickr is the “What is in your bag group”, where 10722 photo’s are placed of bags and its content and around 19500 flickr- users are a member of this group. When you are a member of the group you can add your own picture and join discussions with topics that have titles such as: Does anyone not have a Moleskine or an Ipod, or Do I ask too much of bags?
When looking into it a bit further, there seem to be more groups were people can add pictures of their bags and its content. For instance: What’s really in your bag?, Show us the contents of your bag, purse, wallet and pocket etc. Next to that, you have other websites who support the uploading of your picture of your bag and content, for instance Bryanboy asks you to share your picture. Instyle fashionmagazine offers you this possibility as well on their online section. Even on YouTube you can find vlogs of people who show you the content of their bags. This video from MakeupLoveer, has up to 47785 views. A lot of Youtube vloggers tag their “What’s in your bag-video” with the ” What’s in your bag?” “Or what is in my bag?” tags.
Another phenomenon that always intrigued me is the “What I wore today” groups online. You can find these at Flickr in the groups called: What the HELL are you wearing, What I wore today (only drawings) or the biggest one called: wardrobe_remix. Even on Youtube you have video’s showing vloggers who present the clothes they wore today, for instance: Style: What I Wore Today!, by Rachloves or What I Wore Today 2 by Cidolem:
We can see a couple of things happening in both themes. First most of this content is created by young girls/women, the content is shared in their own online community, and pictures are often placed on the users own blog. Next to that the content of the videos and pictures is always quite serious and focused on fashion. What fascinates me about these video’s and pictures, is the openness of the creators. They don’t same to have any problems showing their clothes, style and personality to the world. The content is for everybody to see. In a way it reminds me of topics about celebrities in fashion magazines. In these topics the fashion style of a celebrity is discussed or they are asked what they take with them in their bags. What is this sharing of private content online? And why are some of these video’s or pictures, especially on YouTube, so popular? Am I old fashion to think this posting of personal information online is inappropriate? Of course I can see the creative aspect of some of the contributions, but I wouldn’t say all of the vlogs and pictures can be called a creative contribution to society? Why do young people post their private lifes online?
Most of these kind of vlogs or pictures are produced and shared by young people in social networks. Next to vlogs you can also think of the production of blogs, game-modding, remix of music videos etc. Most of the social networks have made it possible to easily submit your creation online and share it in various ways with other people. In the work “Understanding the Characteristics of Internet Short Video” Xu Chung, Cameron Dale and Jiangchuan Liu studied the structure of the social network aspects of YouTube. They find that the success of YouTube is build on the easy submitting and sharing aspect: “They allow content suppliers to upload video effortlessly, automatically converting from many different formats, and tag to upload video’s with keywords. Users can easily share videos by mailing links to them, or embedding them on web pages or in blogs. Users can also rate and comment on videos, bringing new social aspects to the viewing of video’s.
In their research, Cheng e.a. also found that YouTube is a social network site: “YouTube is a prominent social media application: there are communities and groups on YouTube, there are statistics and awards for videos and personal channels”. This social media aspect can also be found in the groups on Flickr, where people can post their bag pictures to a specific group and rate each other’s pictures. When we look at the examples of the pictures on Flickr and the vlogs on Youtube, we can see that these too are placed within groups and receive ratings and comments. Next to that, I found that there are people who embed their pictures and videos, placed on such a social network site, into their own blog. From this, one can assume that these contributions aren’t just placed online, but within the social networks of the contributor. This is probably even more important than just placing them online. So, to understand the act of contributing personal creations and information online, we have to see this action in the context of social networks. So, going back to my earlier question “Why do young people post their private lives online?”, we can conclude that the technical tools made it easier for them to share and post content. But to get some more insight in why they do this, we should look deeper in the context were these creations are produced and shared.
Teens learning social skills in social network sites
In the work “Why Youth (Hearth) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social live“, Danah Boyd describes this use of social networks by young people. She finds that the difference between social media and other computer mediated communication can be found in three practices which take place in public, that is the assigning of friends, creating your own profile and the possibility of commenting. Boyd also describes the identity performance that takes place in social networks. In our everyday lives we use our bodies as a set of identity performance. In the interaction with others, we use our bodies to project information about ourselves. You can see this in clothes, speech, facial expressions and movement. Boyd mentions Erving Goffman who calls this process of performance, interpretation and adjustment Impression management. She finds that the learning of this impression management is critical social skill that we learn by experience in public spaces. Since, social networks are also a public space we can see the action of posting content here as an act of impression management. “A MySpace profile can be seen as a form of digital body where individuals must write themselves into being.”
So, when we look at the video’s from these teens girls, who show us the content of their bag or the clothes they wore that day, we should see this as an act in public space were these teens try to learn the social skills of impression management. The products created by these teens are an act of identity performance. By reading the comments of others, watching the videos or pictures of others and creating their own pictures and video’s, teens learn how to present themselves and interact in a social group. Just the way they do in their offline world. For instance choosing certain clothes to wear to school, with the awareness that this has an impact, the tell the world something about themselves. This process of learning impression management takes place in every public space where the possibilities exist, so also in the public spaces of social networks.
One of the differences in everyday life impression management in offline and online world, is that we don’t know who our audience is in an online space. Boyd finds that people have to imagine an audience, since it is impossible to know your actual audience across all space and time. “By imagining an audience, regardless of accuracy, teens are able to navigate the social situation required in crafting a profile. Because of the intricate connections between offline and online social worlds, the audience that teens envision online is connected to their social world offline, or to their hopes about the possible alternatives online.”
Boyd describes an important issue that rises with these imagined audiences. When teens imagine their audience and adjust their impression management skills to this audience, this might be misread by other viewers who don’t fit in the audience imagined. For instance schools and parents who misread the content and can’t place it in the right context. She brings up a nice example of a call she received from a prestigious college who didn’t know what to think of a MySpace profile created by one of the applicants. The image set by the applicant in the admission papers was in contrast with what they had found at his MySpace profile, which was full of slang and hints of gang participation. Boyds reaction: “Perhaps he needed to acquiesce to the norms of the gangs while living in his neighborhood, in order to survive and make it through high school to apply to college?”.
Bringing this all back to my question in the introduction: “Why do young people post their private lives online?”, we can conclude that this online space is a public place and therefore a perfect place for teens to experiment with impression management. It is a place where they can experiment and learn by creating their own profiles, blogs, vlogs, pictures and above all learn how they want to act and be perceived in a social network. The fact that I found this a bit inappropriate comes from the lack of context and understanding. Since I didn’t understood why these teens post their lives online, I felt this was inappropriate. Next to that, they have a choice in what the post online and I am probably not the imagined audience. I have misread the vlogs and pictures as well, just like the college in Boyds example. So, yes my reaction to these creations was a bit too conservative.
Boyd, Danah “Why Youth (Heart) Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life.” Cambridge, MA: MIT Press: 2007
Cheng, Xu, Cameron Dale and Jiangchuan Liu. “Understanding the characteristics of Internet Short Video Sharing: YouTube as a Case Study” arXiv.org: 2007