Most of us with access to the internet already choose to divulge a seemingly unstemmable directive of highly emotive yet completely emotionally disassociated personal information, and will for the foreseeable future go on to advertise our daily races to a largely anonymous audience, with higher speed, more control, increased regularity and less and less consequential regard. We like photos with us in them the most, but the general social consensus is that it's more acceptable to post a picture that somebody else has taken of you, rather than one you've taken of yourself. This is because, interestingly, explicit self-promotion is still seen as slightly unsavoury, whereas explicitly promoting ourselves through somebody else, is not. Whilst we have a growing, directional, animalistic desire to control and manipulate our own future image, most people would prefer it seemed like someone else was doing it for them, because ultimately we still want to be revered and celebrated by other people. Now, more than ever before, we are prepared to manufacture how we share the perception of our lives with others, and noticeably, increasingly prepared to exchange our ordinary standards of behaviour for the new currency of immediacy.
So how does revealing personal information about your past - how you looked then, how you felt then - now relate to revealing that same information about your present - how you look and feel right now?
Take the more traditional but no less contemporary method of text and the written word; for this we can usually be seen celebrating, denouncing or adhering to clockwork-like 'death and resurgence' trends for social media platforms Facebook and Twitter, plus marginally more curtained arenas like Kik - more intimate, but to parents' horror more intimate. Secondly but not secondarily we can reach our own, personal mass-audience through more immediate (and thus increasingly favorited) exclusively-visual approaches such as Snapchat, Instagram and persistent old dun cow, Tumblr; video-specific mediums like Vine; and tweenage millionaire-maker YouTube. Completely live personal-broadcast apps like YouNow and Twitter's Periscope (the clue is in the flavourless name) are by nature so instant that they do away with documentation, record, and essentially a 'past' altogether - solely relying on sharing the immediate present. And this is increasingly what we want. If we have no documented past, we are able to exist as the person we want to be, or more accurately the person we want to present, which we believe will ultimately give us greater control over who and what we will be in the future.
Visual information and written information are no less revealing than one another, but with the rise in photographer or author as editor, both can very quickly fool us into thinking that this altered information has become the past actual; an altered present-reality that instantly becomes an altered past history. Whilst both avenues increasingly celebrate both composer-bias and audience participation and comment, written revelation tends to prefer its author (and equally its reader, for example comments sections, trollers etc) to share with a clear voice; deliberation, politicism or emotionality, whereas personal visual exposure apps such as Instagram actively promote just the opposite; the unruffled, detached, blasé sharer.
Generally, the further back you go, the more mass audience hysteria there was for celebrated individuals & groups, and more recently the eulogised celebrity culture of wealth expenditure, or 'simple lifestyle choices', which surrounded them. Conversely to those in a similar position of mass-audience-adoration less than a decade ago (this being the rarer occurrence of an individual or group of individuals with universally-understood appeal, intended for a mass audience, and celebrated for a particular talent - visually, aurally, cerebrally, emotionally - what we referred to as celebrities) the modern instagrammer seeks an audience to be just as nonchalant as themselves. And they are; just as commonly pretending to be so by manufactured façade, as by very real desensitisation; through sheer volume of content, through the physical action of scrolling past that content, through the reduction of content to 'appropriate' pre-made visuals (emojis), and lastly through the app coding itself; designed purely for the promotion of seeking further, better and faster content. And whilst we are strongly invited to engage in comment as frequently as possible - here we can utilise emojis for trigger-finger instant reactions every couple of seconds, and shorten most of our words - it should be in an off-hand way, obviously. As a result it becomes very difficult to distinguish, even within ourselves, whether the relentless necessity for more means that we are naturally and positively curious about the future, or just increasingly dissatisfied with the present.
If we go back to the original question however, we can very easily see how invested we are in the new principals of immediacy.
The ways in which we actively revealed or perceived our past selves; Instagram’s #tbt (throwback Thursday), Facebook’s ‘9 Years Ago Today’ algorithm - which we already find boringly lacklustre because of the impersonal throwback ‘choices' it presents us with, finding ourselves with a new, creepy feeling of impatience that if only it knew us better or had paid more attention - and less commonly, the digitally presented copy of an analogue photograph, have all fallen behind how we currently present personal information about ourselves; how we are feeling, what we are doing and where we are Right Now.
Our overwhelming desire to be observed and celebrated began less than a decade ago, when we began to experience a merging of public and private space we had never seen before. The rise in empathic intelligence (or 'that could be me') happened much more recently, uniting previous mass hysteria for celebrity culture with the rise of the everyman 'reality celebrity', creating an arguably positive and democratic plateau. The fact that reality celebrities were marketing themselves on exactly the same social media platforms as we ourselves utilised and were part of, meant that not only did the previously-untouchable world of fame now feel inclusive and accessible, but significantly, we started imagining ourselves as the object of this attention. Not only were people starting to replicate reality celebrities' wealth worship and 'lifestyle choices' (these in themselves originally coming from an aspirational replica of 'previously ordinary' people who had become famous through association and rather than from a particular talent; at that time primarily the husbands, wives and partners of celebrities), they were also assimilating the same PR and marketing techniques as their chosen celebrity on their own platforms.
And what were they advertising? The fact that they had had no major achievements to promote, meant that there was nothing specific to advertise except for the present; what they were doing, where they were, and what they were feeling right at that moment, ie. they were simply advertising themselves. Otherwise unremarkable people were carrying out their own PR, and were marketing and promoting themselves on exactly the same social media platforms as we were, and this very quickly created an entirely new culture of manufactured reality in our own everyday lives. The most important part of this self-promotion was Perception. We now valued the immediacy and shininess of the outer wrapping - the system of celebrity, the faux paparazzi shots one could post of oneself, the display of wealth, of being seen - not necessarily the content, or talent, that we valued before. Contrarily, with new visual disposability we could create our own celebrated news (still about ourselves) but were promoting a version of ourselves much closer to the old school celebrities of the mass hysteria era.
Of late, the desire for self-promotion has become so advanced that we can even, in a slightly surreal convolution, fabricate our own audience, even if it is only oneself, in many cases, buying counterfeit appreciation for actual money. The most dadaesque of these manufactured audiences is the audience of one; you are subject, object, and predicate as represented in the single-parented, immaculate birth of the selfie. The sensation of being looked at has so profitably surpassed positive-acknowledgement that we would now prefer to be seen in a negative light than not be seen at all, which has led many people to filter, manipulate and choreograph images to such an extent these images become completely disattached from reality. And by this I mean people have gone beyond stretching the truth, and are now just completely forging their own; predominately using a real events and images as loose palettes to create their own completely individual spectrum of merged fact and fiction.
It is the occurrence of these increasingly exaggerated fabrications that are fundamental in exploring the questions raised above, and the later versions of the Instagram hashtag #baecaughtmeslippin; arguably the most underrated visual art I've seen on Instagram, and the most succinct example of the length we will go to to promote that we are successfully being observed, and that we are observed as being successful, in whatever our own, personal remit of success might be. The breakdown is bae (baby) caught me sleeping, and is the tagline to a photograph taken by your other half, of you asleep. What I find most interesting here is that the thing that made this hashtag so celebrated, and later so prevalent, is that there is still a negative view of the selfie. It was somehow more morally correct to post a photo of yourself that somebody else had taken, rather than you straight-up posting one of yourself. And because the person posting the photo didn't actually take the photo (the age-old conundrum of auteurism), there was an illusion that these particular photos were not as brazenly self-promoting as selfies. Except they are. The poster is still promoting themselves in the first person, and the fact remains they have posted a picture of themselves.
And why not? The audience is aware of all the same fact/ fiction merging techniques as the author, and with time the majority will utilise the very same techniques, because - as is tradition with both contemporary slang; largely emojis and abbreviations, and social trends of this format - anything beginning with irony turns into accepted habit eventually.
It was only when the desire to be celebrated surpassed otherwise normal moral behavioural standards, that the hashtag started trending exponentially. Expressly, it was the fact that the tag was written in the first person that enabled the faux-#baecaughtmeslippin to become an obviously choreographed alternative to the selfie. By using a suggested voyeur to observe and influence another audience, it became an introspective, panoptical share, because these people were not asleep at the time the picture was taken, and nor was there anyone else in the room but themselves. But far from being distasteful, the original faux-#baecaughtmeslippin photographs were, like all good art; unadulterated, considered, captivating and playful. They were completely engaging because one never knew if the subject truly believed they were fooling their audience into thinking the scenarios were real, even if the mirror behind you quite clearly exposed the poser/ poster to be just taking a picture of themselves with their eyes closed, and also because there was a classical belief being promoted that to watch another person sleeping wasn't in any way creepy but the paramount of desire. Perhaps most brilliantly, they were captivating because the subject, like an accidental Gillian Wearing emulation, seemed also to assume a modest, demure identity to go along with it; a post for those too timid or humble for a selfie. #Lolz.
We are witnessing fairly ground-breaking shifts in our collective mentality to information-sharing, and primarily the promotion of the Self Right Now. We are seeing a mass rise in manufactured instant sharing, and these new instant-histories are not you sharing reflections on your past as you were before, for example a photograph of a photograph, but are actually you sharing your past present, meaning these posts are only in the past because they are now simply in the linear past, not because you have exposed how you used to be as you previously might have done. They are simultaneous offerings of how you would like your present to be perceived, and at the same time how you would like your past to be remembered. Quite incredibly, with the acceptance of manufactured realities akin to the faux #baecaughtmeslippin scenarios, we are creating an anterior, ulterior, forward version of ourselves; and with the upsurge of instant, real-time video sharing, our past present is becoming closer to our own future perfect than it has ever been. Totes #DeLoreanFluxCapacitor.