Image is Everything
Idea and Concept
The focus of the project was to find a fun way in which to think critically about self presentation online. Being a young group who are 75% single, dating applications quickly became a topic of discussion. We discussed who used tinder, (all 75% of us) and then began the fun. We started playing with each other´s online identities. We constructed profiles for each other, we spoke to matches on behalf of each other and simply just played. The point here is, without even meaning to, we started obsessing over our online identities and the way we were being presented to our (very lucky) potential dates. As we realized what we were doing, we decided to use ourselves as a starting point. Next we looked at many important academics tackling the complex definition of what identity is. Erving Goffman, Mike Martin and Daniel K. Mroczek all suggest that identity is socially constructed, which is something we obviously agreed with having just played (Marwick 2). Our arguably shallow way of thinking about dating up to this point started to make us question: is it possible to conceptualize a New Media dating interface that offers us the opportunity to really get to know people through our smartphones?
People, like us, tend to embellish their online identities to make themselves more appealing, whether this be on LinkedIn, Instagram or other applications. We all want to look interesting, like we have very exciting lives. In applications such as Tinder, individual profiles are constructed around pictures, leaving a very limited space for alternative depictions or descriptive texts. This results in image being prioritised when creating first impressions online (Strano). Erving Goffman highlights two states of mind when putting forward a representation of the self. One is ‘sincere’ because the one representing has been as honest as possible. The other, Goffman labels the ‘cynic’, someone who realizes their representation is in some way flawed, dishonest or slightly distorting the truth of who they are. This recognition of the `cynic´ implies people are capable of putting a fake-self online. Similarly, Ranzini & Lutz argue that Location-Based-Real-Time-Dating-Apps (LBRTDAs) afford users the option to present themselves as authentic or false depending on their motives. Generally, image is everything in LBRTDAs. If not everything, then certainly the carrot that attracts the donkey. We wanted to see if it would be possible to create a new carrot, except this carrot would be valuable not for its orange exterior, but for the crunch. We began to feel that there was room in the dating market for the discussion of hobbies, interests and fantastic music taste.
Originally we thought that this could be done by creating profiles based on collective interests, matching people via what they love, not how they love to look. However, as we delved further into our idea, we realized that turning this into a solution for an online identity crisis was not the way to go. Becoming moral architects ceased to be our aim, and we started to look at this as a fun alternative commentary. Thus, we decided to make `PlayAH´ a game. A game affording the opportunity to distract and entertain the player, while making potential matches a fun incentive. We chose to use a heavily pixelated photo that would de-blur the more the people spoke to each other. This was an attempt to reverse the traditional applications in an amusing way, and a slightly tongue in cheek method of making people communicate. We decided it was not worth trying to solve a problem, as some fish are just too big to fry. This was simply an opportunity for us to create something that would bring out that `PlayAH´ hiding in each and every one of us, and ask them to play.
In order to more fully develop our ideas, to see if they were viable when further discussed, we spoke to a number of fellow students about their experiences with dating apps such as Tinder, Grindr and Happn. When questioned, the general consensus among our peers was that these LBRTDAs do not afford a fully satisfactory experience for those using them, which correlated with the opinions of the members of this group. Tinder in particular received mixed reviews amongst our friends; as well as being the most-downloaded amongst those questioned. While this was not a survey of much academic value, it did convince us that our line of thinking was worth pursuing. Thus we began to think about not only why we should commit to such a project, but also how we could demonstrate our idea as best as possible within a New Media framework. A conversation with our tutor led us to a number of application visualization softwares, many of which are available to download online and try for free. We eventually decided to use Invision Software to visualize our concept, a company whose website claims to be “The world’s leading prototyping, collaboration & workflow platform” (http://www.invisionapp.com), a boast that we ultimately could not ignore. This software allows users to piece together a prototype application draft, one that was quite limited in its scope but allowed us to begin ‘invisioning´ how such a project might look upon its hypothetical completion. The end result of this stage was very satisfactory to the group, as we all found that having a prototype structure in mind motivated us to continue in strong spirits.
Nonetheless, we were left with a number of problematic questions. For example: What costs, financial or otherwise, would be necessary if we were to explore this project further? It will be apparent to the reader that there was no economic consideration to our work, no business model or quotations from developers. Although creating a viable, marketable product was not our intention, the problems of pursuing such a project to completion must be recognized if we are to provide a full discussion of our project. On top of this, there is room for more advanced research on whether or not our app interface could be designed better. For example: our group suggests that we could rethink how many and which categories the user could choose to enter the quiz stage, as well as thinking about how many similar answers the players will need to be put together. Alternatively, although Invision.com was satisfactory in what it provided, perhaps there are more suitable online platforms that we did not find or use. There are perhaps other problematic questions not mentioned here, but in recognizing some of them we hope that our ultimate goal can become even clearer. Having said all this, this project was intended to exist within a theoretical and academic context, and so the problems identified above did not cause us undue concern.
In order to document our progress, we created a Google Document for group members to share theories, academic scholarship quotes and critiques of each other’s work. This document was the bedrock of our presentations and blog posts, in that all of our work was contained on it. We also direct the reader to our application prototype, accessible through Invision App software. As can be seen, PlayAH has a tidy interface that was inspired by other applications available on app stores, but also contains unique elements that offer something new to users. On top of this, we wrote a scripted presentation that was performed in front of our class group, lasting just over seven minutes. This script was originally inspired by Goffman’s dramaturgical analyses, but also allowed us to present our concept in a fun and unusual fashion. Both the prototype and the script can be viewed via this link:
Intervention in academic debate
Having discussed Goffman in detail, both earlier in this post and in the hyperlinked script, we move to Marwick who offers a new line of thought by problematising the term `online identity´. She argues that all identity is performative work but the term ‘online identity’ implies that there is a separation between identity online and offline. Also, within scholarship the first one is often perceived to be less “real”: ’The latter implies that there is a false dichotomy between essential and constructed identity that depends on the medium through which it is presented ’ (Marwick 22).
Individuals can choose to present themselves in different ways and tweak or manipulate information about themselves, be it online or offline.
There are, however, problematic questions that arise here. “PlayAH” does not place as much emphasis on visual appearance as it does on mutual interests and conversation, but does this encourage more authenticity? We cannot answer this question fully yet, but would pay close attention to it if this hypothetical project were to be realised further.
Having said this, the term authenticity is in itself problematic. Marwick explains that authenticity as a concept is just as current and widely-held as identity regarding the idea of a “real me”. However, she also points out that ‘The authentic is just as much localised, temporally situated as identity, self, gender, and the like’ (Marwick 48). Therefore, if identity, authenticity and “the self” are all socially constructed and problematic concepts, we conclude that the act of being yourself is a very difficult process and everything including dating is a performative act, or a game.
So, now we focus our attention on the theories of Solutionism and Gamification, particularly the arguments of Evgeny Morozov, Sherry Turkle and others. Morozov points to the limitations of solutionism, arguing that we are too quick to find problems to fix in today’s technological-prioritizing society. Instead, we need to think further about whether something is indeed a problem or not before rushing to find a solution. It is important that we address these arguments. We did not conduct this project with the intention of solving the gap in the LBRTDA market, instead our goal is to open further academic discussions about LBRTDAs themselves, and whether they are useful to us (or as useful as they could be) in their current form.
As well as this, we need to address theories of gamification. Dating has frequently been labelled as a `game´; one that few people know the rules to. People who date a lot of people at a time are frequently labelled `players´ and that can be taken in both negative and positive ways depending on who says it and in what social situation. Therefore the idea of dating being a `game´ is not a new phenomenon. However, by looking into dating applications, applying game theory and then creating an application that is no longer just showing signs of gamification, but is literally a game, we embrace and critique the entire process.
Sherry Turkle states that we “expect more from technology and less from each other” (TEDxUIUC-Sherry-Turkle-Alone-Together). This is an interesting quote when considering dating applications. Nowadays, more and more of our everyday lives involve technological translations, as well as technological reliance. If I sign up for a LBRTDA and don´t get a date, do I blame myself, others or the app? Probably the latter. This suggests that much of our offline identity can be translated into an online identity, and that the lines between each can blur.
This leads us to discuss the nature of players and decision making: “In a game of imperfect information, players may be uninformed about the moves made by other players” (Peters). Ultimately, people are people. We have a process in which we date, and though an application may help mould that, it isn´t going to inherently change how we think about who we date and why.
“A player may have incomplete information about actions available to some other player” (Peters). This is one way in which game theory is relatable to dating and how we can see the charm of an app such as “PlayAH”. By creating a real game out of the metaphoric one dating is often referred to as, “PlayAH” allows users to be players, actual players in an actual game as opposed to the more well known promiscuous player congratulated for conquests. “If you are a player in such a game, when choosing your course of action or “strategy” you must take into account the choices of others” (Dixit). This is also important; when dating you of course take into account the other person and what you think their move will be. Asking out a person who is definitely going to say no is not a very good plan. A more sensible option would be to weigh up the likelihood of them saying yes, and the likelihood of them saying no, and the possible outcomes of both. Arguably this is what a lot of people do. The interesting part of this is whether applications allow us, through our more `constructed´ identities, to abandon the consideration of the other player. Therefore, if we expect less from each other and more from technology, and prioritise `winning´ this game of probability, we reduce the application to just that: a game.
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