Thursday, 22 February 2018

Self(ish)

It has become something of a fashion, as of late, for ideas to arise within the consciousness of the public and then be held as concrete, ironclad truths regardless as to whether or not they have any sort of basis in reality. Particularly if it is a notion allowing for a degree of seeming personal or moral superiority in relation to others. One that has reversed in recent years is the assumption that only criminals and soldiers have tattoos. While thoroughly preposterous, this instance of tomfoolery was believed by large swaths of society until very recently. Such presumptions are particularly common with regard to technology and the youth who tend to utilize it. A situation reaching all the way back to the beginnings of the ‘digital age’. Whilst it was once popular to dismiss computers as mere toys, the sands have begun to shift, beginning with the advent of ‘social media’ and fully mobile digital information devices and now many speak as though such mechanicals have the power to shape the very form of the human mind. 

Among the most common and egregious claims being made with regard to contemporary media infrastructures is that it is leading to a marked and unprecedented increase in the instances of so-called ‘narcissism’. To begin with the use of the term in the majority of contexts is faulty or at the very least based upon a false premise. Narcissism refers to a state in which an individual believes that everything that occurs, both positive and negative, occurs because of them. That to which is generally referred in such churlish condemnations is megalomania. Though even this designation is rather over-stating the case, as well as being farcically narrow in scope. The apparent increase in seemingly self-centred behaviour has its basis not in prevalence but rather a more general awareness. Citizens are no more self-centred in the current epoch than they have been at any other point in human history. The primary difference is that, presently, people have become more able to put themselves into the public sphere, both in terms of photographic technology, as well as the broader distribution apparatus. As a result the general populous have become more greatly cognizant of what would have formerly been private citizens. 

Partly what makes screeds against self-documentation, particularly ‘selfies’, absurd is the fact that people have found methods of documenting their bodies and lives since such 
means became possible. Dating back to the parchment and charcoal self portraits of the Rennaisance. Age-defining artist Artemisia Gentileschi was particularly known for this, partly as a result of her having been banned from the art academies of the day due to her gender, self-reference, often nude, being her only avenue to mastering anatomical rendering. The only significant difference between this form of self-portrait and what is being done now is the comparative ease of production and publication facilitated by the digital cameras now incorporated into modern day mobile telephonic devices and the Internet. Both of which were heralded as grand advancements to the human condition when first publicized. 

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