Tag Archives: reputation management

Che Guevara – What is it about his picture?

che

Right, another quick film review then. We went to see “Chevolution” the other night, a documentary about the famous photograph of Che Guevara. The film does a fairly good job delivering the historic facts about the picture’s origins (it was taken by Alberto “Korda” Diaz in 1960) and how it became the most reproduced photograph of a human being. Unfortunately, some of the people asked to comment on the image’s cultural and political significance are not doing a very good job at that and rather deliver some lofty polemics. Here are some of the deeper insights I distilled from “Chevolution”. Continue reading

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The trouble with Facebook friends

FB-friends

There’s plenty of talk at the moment about the impact of social networking sites on friendship. Bring up the topic at a party or during a coffee break and you will certainly trigger quite a lively discussion. Some will tell you that Facebook is the end of friendship as we know it. Others will proudly report how they reconnect and interact with so many more people than they used to and how that certainly cannot be a bad thing, can it?

I would offer a boring compromise. My close friends are still my close friends and there will always be only a handful of them. Similarly, there will always be a few hundred others I’m just not that close to – whether they now populate my Facebook newsfeed or not. In other words, social networking sites are unlikely to change how important a person is to me, but they will change the way I interact with them. It adds and alters the mix of communication channels.

0=not a friend, 1=friend

A general problem in this discussion whether it’s good or bad to have 583 Facebook friends is this inconspicuous little word “friend”. It’s quite a tricky one. Facebook deals with friends in a binary fashion. 0=not a friend, 1=friend. It might be a cultural thing that Americans see the world that way, but it’s certainly a bit too black and white for the rest of us. Of course, for a critical commentator, it is then quite easy to jump at a friends list with 583 people and announce the end of friendship.

Would it help if Facebook had a more nuanced friends classification scheme? Let’s say, it could range from “most awesome best friend in the world” to “randomly met at a party on my way out”. While this would certainly make it more clear that not all Facebook friends are created equal, it would be terribly unfeasible, as I recently discovered.

Friends on a scale from 1 to 10

I decided to do a bit of social management on my Facebook friends list. My newsfeed had been full of stuff and people I wasn’t interested it, my privacy settings didn’t distinguish between different groups of people, and overall I wanted to have a bit more intimacy with those close friends I care about. So the idea was to create different lists (you can do that) and assign friends to them according to how close I am to them.

This failed. I must admit that rating friends according to some one-dimensional scale is a terrible, useless, and probably quite unethical idea. From a practical point of view, I had to give up after 10 people or so because it took me forever for each of them to decide where to put them. Funnily enough, while I was thinking about them and where to put them, they tended to move back up the scale and I felt the urge to contact them immediately.

So in the end, I ended up creating lists according to how I know the person, for example high school, work, and so on. This turned out to be quite nice because I can now tune in to different social news streams from different stages of my life. I also ended up deleting a few people because – despite all my research attempts – I could not figure out who they are and how I know them.

Big Brother and the “people like you and me” genre

bigbrother

When I came to the UK last year, the TV show “Big Brother” was already ailing, it seemed. After ten seasons or so, the country had lost interest in the idea of locking up a bunch of ever more quirky human beings to broadcast their attempts to kill time. As a last outburst – as a Big Brother supernova, if you like – the media had just squeezed every last drop of news value from the death of Jade Goody, the most famous Big Brother candidate in the UK. Last Wednesday, Channel 4 announced that it will discontinue the show in 2010.

It seemed to me that Big Brother passed away rather quietly – no uproar, no vociferous calls for five more seasons, just a few flashbacks to the most unforgettable moments. But Big Brother certainly deserves some credit. If it didn’t invent it, the program definitely popularized the “people like you and me”-genre. It was the epitome of Andy Warhol’s prediction that we shall all enjoy our 15 minutes of fame, in some cases converting these into 15 minutes of shame.

Now, if we say that people got tired of Big Brother, did they also get tired of the “people like you and me” genre? I would love to say that the answer is “yes”. After ten seasons or so, we came to realize that it’s boring to watch other people going about their day-to-day life. In fact, it would be nice to say that we rediscovered how exciting our own lives can be and that we no longer need the distraction of watching locked-up Big Brother candidates.

Unfortunately, there’s only little evidence that we got tired of the “people like you and me” genre. In fact, it appears to me that we got bored with Big Brother because it wasn’t Big Brother enough… if you know what I mean. How cumbersome to put people in a house for three months until they finally perform something worth broadcasting. How constraining that all those moral conventions of regulated mainstream media still apply. Big Brother was only the beginning, not the end, of the 15-minutes-of-fame culture.

The irony of it all is that we have indeed rediscovered how exciting our own lives can be – and how fun it is to share them with everybody out there. Instead of one Big Brother, we now have millions of little brothers all filming and broadcasting themselves. It is easy and tempting to apply a strict moral judgment on this trend; one that condemns the shameless self-promotion and exhibitionism. But it is equally possible to herald Youtube videos as a form of cultural expression and identity-shaping self-representation. I postpone this debate until the next pub visit later.

A blog is not a baby album and never should be

Baby's Blog

First of all, a big ‘thank you’ for everybody who commented on my previous post. The interest in freelancing and coffee shops goes to show what a prominent role these two seem to play in the lives of bloggers and blog readers. Just for the record, my post wasn’t written from a coffee shop, but I do recommend the Fleet River Bakery as a fabulous example of a local independent (I think?!) coffee shop with free Wi-Fi, and also Lori’s blog as a fabulous source of many more musings on the topic of coffee and culture.

Not sure how to make the transition to today’s topic. How about… there’s a day in each freelancer’s life when he/she sits in a local independent coffee shop and suddenly decides, “Let me become a parent”. No more 3-months contracts and moving from one flat to the next, but rather taking on that 9-5 position in a PR department and investing in some Zone 6 property. I can’t say ‘been there, done that’, but I image that’s how it goes down.

Now, the point is, when you become a parent, there is one thing I would kindly ask you not to do, ever. Do not put up a public blog about your little offspring, no matter how cute it is. Some web 2.0-embracing parents may think that a blog is just the 21st-century form of keeping a baby album, but it’s not. Neither is the baby’s own Facebook profile, before it can even stand up by itself. Just to be clear, I completely understand the parents’ pride and the relatives’ unceasing interest in the toddler’s latest advancements. But don’t put it out there on the web.

I’m saying this in the interests of the child. In its early years, it’s fairly incapable of letting the outside world know whether it wants its pictures on Flickr and Facebook or not. Just in case it doesn’t want that shot of him playing in the sandbox up on the web, parents shouldn’t put it there. And that’s not just because the kid might feel embarrassed about its baby fat some 10 years down the road, but because you never know who looks at public web content. So until the little thing can actually move around the mouse himself, keep it private.

Apart from such privacy issues, there’s of course the chance of baby-promotion-overkill. Again, I cannot being to image how proud parents are of their baby, but I feel that there’s a limit to how much you should show it on a public blog. Something nice and simple with a few family pictures or first walking attempts for grandma to see is fine. But creating some 24/7 live stream of the child is not. My favorite so far: a blog written from the point of view of the baby: “Today, I took my parents out for shopping and cried so loud that they bought me the candy I wanted…” Incredible.

Facebook – an act of the devil?

Archbishop fan group

Will they ever get it? I don’t think so. Since social networking sites like Facebook have become so immensely popular, critics from all corners of society have renewed their claims that the Internet is isolating, alienating, and inevitably leading to the end of healthy community life. The latest in line this morning: Archbishop Vincent Nichols (see BBC article)

His criticism is so old it’s almost too boring to repeat. Facebook leads young people to seek transient relationships, as many of them as possible to boast about them. And when these loose relationships collapse, young people go and commit suicide, according to the Archbishop. Moreover, they forget how to interact face-to-face, loosing their ability to interpret a person’s mood and and body language. In other words, once again the end of society.

Not every friend is a friend

I do not know if the Archbishop has ever signed on to Facebook or if he was thoroughly briefed about it before making his claims. I find it unlikely, as he contradicts both the experience of most Facebook users and the current status quo in terms of academic research on this topic.

I’ve been doing a bit of work on online communication myself over recent weeks. During the interviews I conducted, all interviewees made it very clear that they use Facebook to talk to a few close friends on a regular basis. The rest of the people on their friend list are those who they just met once or were never really that close to. It’s like collecting business cards. You got the person’s details and if at any point in the future you need to contact her, you can.

Critics like the Archbishop should realize that not every contact that’s labeled a “friend” on Facebook is a true friend. In fact, many people I talked to said they started a number of separate friend lists to distinguish between those who they care about and those they aren’t that close to.

Integrate, mix, replace

Many academic an journalistic articles, as well as my interviewees, also suggest that online interaction is very closely integrated with offline interaction. If we only looked at Facebook communication, our social life would indeed be pretty sad. But Facebook is there to supplement everything else that went on before, to mix with it, or in some cases to replace it – but only partially.

Facebook and other social networking sites may even enable relationships to be maintained that were previously lost. Those students I spoke to (in addition to my own experience) all came to the UK from abroad. They say that through social media they find it much easier and cheaper to stay in touch with their friends from high school or their families back home.

Technology, the culprit

Finally, critics like the Archbishop make it sound like social networking sites dropped to the face of the earth as the source of all evil. I see that they make for an excellent culprit. But if we want to lament the decline of community life (which we have some reason to do), we should look somewhere else first. Facebook et al. only reflect and perhaps emphasize social trends that have been ongoing for quite some time, such as individualization, globalization, social exclusion, and some others.

While I wrote this, I was wondering about the Archbishops motifs to voice his criticism about social networking sites. Does he think that those who no longer go to church are now surfing the web instead? Does he find it hard to compete for the attention of young people? Does he hope they would come to his church if Facebook was outlawed?

As a side note, I find it worth mentioning that Mr. Nichols has a Facebook fan group with 222 members. Not sure whether he knows about this or how he feels about it.

Dude, where’s my camera?

This morning, I’m happy to post the first contribution by a guest writer on this blog. She previously blogged under the name “Chamique”. Her post is a follow-up to a number of discussions we had about this whole uploading, tagging, de-tagging pictures business on Facebook. This includes not only the obvious issue of self-promotion and reputation management. The real concern is about this obsession of having to document one’s life, every second of it – as if things didn’t happen unless you see them in some Facebook album. Thanks, “Chamique”, for this post!

Create Album

Of late, we’ve been discussing this sudden and constant need to document everything we experience and see. To make others believe we were there. Or maybe to make ourselves believe it sometimes. Was I really lounging around on a beach somewhere just a few weeks ago? My tan and memories might be fading, but all the photographs say yes, this did indeed happen.
I’ve always considered myself to be someone who writes to remember. I’ll make to-do lists just so the list stays in my head. I remember my handwriting on Post Its and journals and lecture notes. I guess my memory is visual. Does that mean my photograph taking is meaningless, given that I’ve already seen what I’m capturing on the lens?

On a recent trip to Oxford, I whipped out my camera and took several pictures of the owner of this ‘blog just because I knew it would piss him off. (I’m controversial like that.) The results were so ridiculous – even by my flimsy standards – that those pictures will remain relegated to a lowly subfolder somewhere on my computer. But I know I can still get a giggle out of looking at them in the near or distant future. If ever I choose to do so. The point is – I am comforted that I have large portions of my life in pictures. Like somehow this knowledge lets me clear up more brain space for all the new things I must learn over the course of my life.

Can I claim copyright over my crazy night?

The better part of my Sunday morning last weekend was spent in the frantic un-tagging of some *ahem* unflattering photographs of myself on Facebook. While I’m unapologetic about the clothes I wear and faces I make at a camera when it’s pointed at me, I do take into consideration that the 600 people that are called ‘friends’ of mine include those whom I do not particularly want to share my momentary lapses of reason with. It must also be pointed out that I seem to have far too much faith in my friends and their taste(lessness). It appears that not many of them are as discerning as my gentle self whilst uploading photographs to the internets. My grandchildren would be horrified. (It ruins the glamourous image I’m trying to build up for myself over the years, you see.)

Then again, all I have of my own grandparents is a selection of elegant black and whites. I haven’t ever seen them sticking out a cheeky tongue during a group photo. Did previous generations live their lives less fully than us now?
At home, we have a charcoal sketch of my grandmother, which guests are quick to comment on. Where’s that from, they’ll ask. And there’s the romantic story of how Ruiz Pipo, a young Parisian artist, approached my stunning grandmother and asked if he might sketch her, right there, on a paper napkin at the café, circa 1954.

Facebook Tag

Cut to Paris, 2009. I, instead, have an album of a hundred or so digital photographs of me making a fool of myself in front of the several places of interest. Have we become so accustomed to the abundance of cameras and recording devices that we allow ourselves to be at ease or even careless when accosted by a lens? Are photographs not sacred anymore?

Things become even more complicated if we entertain stuffy respectable ambitions for ourselves as professionals. The aspiring political candidate can’t be seen sleeping on the sidewalk with her head next to a trash can. (The quirky artist, however, causes no scandal when carelessly displaying a profile pic of himself rolling a spliff.) So many people are quick to restrict viewing of their personal photographs and weblogs, pre-empting controversies at the workplace or amongst family. Are we no longer expected to let our guard down – ever? Or does it mean that we must all acknowledge how public our social, professional and personal lives have now become? Foucault would have had a field day with the panoptic discipline we’re exercising. We’re self-censoring like never before whilst simultaneously being led to believe that we have every freedom of expression.

Depth of field

There have been so many times that I wish I had my camera, afraid that I might forget what was in front of me. But strangely, those moments are the ones that stay with me longest.

If a picture tells a thousand words, personal memories make photographs seem like Shakespeare on acid.

The pictures might show me sitting under a watermelon pink sunset, but it doesn’t tell you how tart and minty my cold mojito was that evening. They might show a group of us at our high school graduation, but it won’t show the purple hickey I was hiding under my sari. My parents don’t know that the boyfriend they hated so much was the one making me smile when he took the picture of me that’s framed in their bedroom. You can’t smell the grass from my pictures in the park.

I think my relationship with photographs is becoming increasingly distant. They’ve come to represent a moment, but not the experience of it. Pictures trigger memories and anecdotes. Like my grandmother’s portrait. Maybe not quite as graceful, but nonetheless real. Like the music that was playing at the time you looked into the camera, that nobody heard but you.