I have been wondering over the past few months about the connection between a media-saturated society, reality, and the sudden burst of user-generated media content on the internet. I have began to form a theory, mainly, that user generated content is a way for a person to authenticate themselves by encoding elements of their lives into media formats that are relied upon for the transmission of important events of reality.
The basic thought is this: we receive information about the world around us through various forms of media. As we become accustomed to receiving this information in these formats, about people, places, and things which we deem important, we begin to associate worthiness with the media format itself. And so, We attempt to make our lives seem more ‘real’ relative to our mediated surroundings; essentially, by mediating our own lives via these formats.
We also begin to associate the unintentional characteristics inherent in each format with importance. With each media format comes an artifact; something that is placed on the message being transmitted unintentionally; the grain of film, the half-tone print of a newspaper photo, the hiss of analog tape. As we receive information that we value as important through these media, we begin to associate the artifacts inherent in the media with the importance of the message as well. Consequently, we may develop an emotional response/attraction to these artifacts. From my days of being an audio recording engineer, I can remember countless arguments of analog tape vs digital recordings centered around the “magical” (read: emotional attachment) qualities of tape vs the lifeless quality of digital. While technically, digital recording has it’s artifacts, we were not accustomed to them, and most importantly, the format artifacts were unlike the artifacts of analog of which we had spent years developing an attachment to. I’ve heard the same romanticism about film grain in analog vs digital photography, and I’m sure it goes on and on, through many fields and many technologies.
Specifically, I’ve wondered about this phenomenon with regards to the photo sharing site, flickr. On the site, one can view a large amount of photography; from beautiful images from photo amaeteurs and professionals to vernacular every day items; people’s pets, the contents of their bookbags. My theory is that by photographing these items they become validated to an audience who has become accustomed to seeing important information represented in the context of media, in this case the photograph, with all of it’s inherent artifacts; extreme color saturations (or lack of), the crop of the image itself, etc.
This theory extends the ideas of representation of self through material popularized by Erving Goffman, assigining agency to material, etc, but updated for the new situations presented by the web. It also follows form of the research I have read on Symbolic Interaction within the realm of architecture. The following sources may provide further insight:
Riggins, Stephen Harold. The power of things: The role of domestic objects in
the presentation of self. Beyond Goffman. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Smith, Ronald W. Bugni, Valerie. Symbolic Interaction Theory and
Architecture. Symbolic Interaction , Vol. 29, Issue 2, pp. 123-155