They see me, therefore I am. Selfies and the media ecosystem of lazy authorship

The Greek soccer player Samaras was in the penalty area, preparing for a corner kick, when he saw himself on camera. He took a look at the stadium screen and involuntarily began to rearrange his tumbled hair. Football? What football, it’s a mega-selfie!


Snares for lazy authors

The Internet has emancipated individual authorship. The only remaining barrier to the flow of personal opinions is the author’s own laziness rather than lack of access to a printing press or TV tower. Producing “hard”, keyboard content has proved to be a challenging job, which few authors can master.

Selfie“Voting” with a computer mouse is much less of a challenge. Mouse activity has brought forth the phenomenon of “lazy” authorship, when a person appears to be involved in the circulation and even in the production of content, yet the entry cost is minimal. That said, mouse activity enables one to create a sub-product that could be offered to the public as evidence of personal involvement, personal opinions and personal choice. Even “likes” and “reposts” can reveal someone’s personal preferences, reflecting his or her affiliation with a group or a world view and making their micro-contribution to the process of collective viral editing.

Lazy authorship is about mouse activity, plus weak keyboard activity limited to interjections. Lazy authorship is always reactive – it can only react to hard content that already exists. Whereas hard authors create some original hard content (including videos and graphics) in an effort to express some original ideas. Hard authorship can be both proactive (raising an issue) and reactive (comments).

Incidentally, the very effect of the Web is produced by reactions to certain content rather than by content per se. The body of lazy authorship in the Web most probably outweighs the body of textual content produced by hard, keyboard authors. Yet, it is lazy authorship, whereby lots of people (all of the digital ecosystem dwellers, for that matter) each leave a weak digital footprint of his or her own, that forms the foundation for big data, along with setting the stage for an economy of cloud rentiers (in the digital world, that kind of economy will eventually come to replace one driven by land or capital rentiers).

This is why lazy authorship is such an interesting and, unlike hard authorship, hitherto unanalyzed phenomenon. Lazy authorship was virtually non-existent as a phenomenon in the pre-Internet era, except maybe for participants editing rumors while passing them on. Until the advent of the World Wide Web, there was just no technical prerequisite for lazy authorship.

In order to engage lazy authors, helping them overcome the input threshold, media engineers nowadays offer special lazy-authorship services. These can be described as lazy authorship snares of sorts.

Just make a few mouse clicks and you will get what looks like an original product (with our brand in the corner). This is similar to getting a homemade meal by heating up a prepackaged lasagna. For example, the which-Game-of-Thrones-character-are-you tests fall in that same category. Click on your answers, and you will get yourself a new induced identity; by using it on the Web, you’ll be able to let the world know the way you are… as well as declare the sheer fact that you exist.

Lazy-authorship services are intended to catch the Internet masses’ lazy authorial activity and channel it along with certain traffic or brand tracks. They will have us believe that a public quasi-authorial opportunity is up for grabs, confirming the author’s status of a social creature, and it is just a few clicks away.

They see me, therefore I am

Increasingly many surveys reveal the allegedly harmful nature of selfies. Condemning selfies as narcissism is stating the obvious; there is no need for additional research to prove it. It seems far more interesting to find out just why the selfie marches so triumphantly across the social media these days, what its social role really is, and how it could be used in creating media ecosystems. I will venture to say I rank among those who see selfies as an important socializing tool and a highly efficient one (hence its popularity).

The selfie is not about posing; it’s about self-publishing. Classical narcissism is egocentric: Narcissus was happy to admire his reflection all by himself. Selfies, meanwhile, take the nature of narcissism to its direct opposite, with the objective now being to admire one’s reflection in the beholders’ eye. Selfies don’t make sense unless they have an audience to be manifested to.

But let us get back to Samaras. It’s now time to marry the idea of lazy authorship to the selfie phenomenon.

Chicago’s famous Cloud Gate, The Bean, was originally meant to reflect the skyline, but has now come to be seen almost exclusively as equipment for selfies. In Moscow’s Gorky Park, there is a mirror cube, where one can photograph a mirror image of himself/herself in a landscape setting. Even landscape design is now used for creating facilities for a selfie to distribute it – along with brand names (Gorky Park, in this case) – in social media, where lazy authors abound.

Curiously enough, that combination of selfie and geo-tagging is based on an age-old tradition: suffice it to recall self-portrait photos with some sea resort scenery as a backdrop and a “Greetings from Miami – 1983” vignette (а sort of pre-Internet geo-tagging). This is absolutely in tune with McLuhan’s spirit: every new medium is created to satisfy a need we are aware of, but ends up itself creating a new need.

Speaking of contemporary urban design, mirrors in elevators and toilets in some “advanced” buildings, as well as shop windows, should become branded vignettes. The idea is to encourage a visitor or a passerby to take a selfie, while at the same time promoting a particular brand name.

At sporting events, cameramen often focus their cameras on some couple in the stands; a television producer then draws a love heart around and sends the image onto a stadium screen. The couple on camera is expected to kiss. The crowd waits approvingly. And after zooming in on two or three couples, the cunning cameraman will suddenly shift his focus to two policemen… Or there once was a case when a cameraman working at a stadium focused on a young couple. These weren’t in a hurry to kiss and ended up being booed by the crowd. The guy then responded by holding up a piece of paper saying “She’s my sister!” He was ready for that!

All those video portraits of football fans at the World Cup in Brazil can also be classified as selfies, even if they are obligingly produced and published by a professional broadcaster. Not only a stadium screen, but also a global television broadcast (with a hundred-million-strong audience) offers a lazy-authorship service for random selfies, ones intended for publication.

There is nothing new to filming sports fans in the stands during a broadcast. But these days all images caught on camera are also screened on the spot so that fans can see themselves televised. More importantly, they can see themselves being watched by others. Yes, one’s clothes do matter, and so, too, do one’s posture, makeup, behaviour and entourage – all that is usually caught by a selfie (obviously these are the criteria that a television producer is guided by). But above all else comes the thrill of getting into the global spotlight.

And this, indeed, is cool. At the football World Cup in Brazil, selfie-like shots have been given the status of a television genre in its own right. Thanks to the big stadium screen, a fan knows just when he or she will get into the global spotlight. Global broadcasting has come to be at the selfie’s service. This is, perhaps, the vastest lazy-authorship service so far. The role of an author in this case comes down to creating a fan look that is likely to catch a TV producer’s eye. There is even a kind of an “arms race” among authors in the stands, with fans vying for the cameraman’s attention with the help of outrageous attire and makeup.

At an individual, atomized level, craving for a response seems a tiny motive to participate. But it does motivate two-and-a-half billion people into going online. New technologies make a big difference in many ways; most importantly, they make it easy to socialize – fast, and with minimum effort. In social contacts offline, such pace and magnitude of one’s socialization are just impossible.

The digital media ecosystem is an echo-system. They see me, therefore I am. In this formula, strangely enough, “they see” is more important than “me.”

However ironic we may feel about the selfie’s narcissism, that narcissism is just a carrot offered to an individual as a reward in an act of socialization. Furthermore, a cool selfie endorsed with lots of “likes” will raise or prove the social rank of an individual.

What are the main prerequisites for the perception of a selfie as cool? Taking a photo of oneself in some prestigious locale, or beside a celebrity (or a cardboard effigy thereof), or wearing some nice outfit. It is response crave, not narcissism, that can serve as a real clue to understanding the nature of the selfie.

For media ecosystem demiurges’ information. Observing the selfie through the prism of lazy authorship, services should be created that enable one to make a self-portrait photo and to publish it with a link to a particular locale or brand. In advanced museums, for example, there are photo booths where a visitor, using preset stencils, can create a theme collage based on a self-portrait, to then share it on Facebook.

The selfie thus crossbred with geo-tagging becomes a second-tier territory marking of the John-was-here type. Intended to introduce oneself publicly, a person’s lazy author activity is a product of our social physiology, a natural discharge we have as social beings.

 Andrey Miroshnichenko

Author of Human as media. The emancipation of authorship – available on Amazon


Categories: Emancipation of Authorship, Media ecology

Tags: , ,

1 reply

  1. Dear Andrey,
    Thank you for your excellent article. This image that is going viral on the Net the day after the World Cup reinforces the points you make. Regards……..Alex

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