For my precursor, I set about creating an online presence for my 12-14 year old self. My project studies the way young women aged 12-18 represent themselves through social media such as Tumblr and Instagram in 2015. Having experienced what it is like to be that age I feel a special connection to this audience. I feel almost a protective urge toward them. Additionally, there is a large age gap between myself and my sister, Phoebe who turns 14 soon. I constantly project my own experiences of being her age onto her, feeling like my own experiences are an advantage she has over the wicked monster of adolescence. But, my research into the current virtual environment suggests I should just throw those experiences out the window, such is the profoundly transformed digital space available to her.
So I asked myself, if I had access to Instagram and Tumblr in 2006, what would my profile look like? And, since I’m working under the hypothesis that young girls use these mediums to present a ‘curated version’ of their lives, how would I strategically represent myself?
Preliminary content analysis has revealed the very different ways girls use Tumblr and Instagram to represent their identities. Tumblr appears to be a place of anonymity, where girls can disassociate themselves from their ‘IRL” identity and because of this, be extremely raw and honest. Tumblr is replete with text posts in a confessional style. Users seem empowered by their anonymous identities and often use the medium as a bit of a short and sweet/truncated online diary. I took this idea to its extreme, by hunting through my old diaries and posting actual excerpts of my inner thoughts at ages 10-18. With faith in its anonymity, my younger self confided in my diaries in the same way as many modern Tumblr users do online. The only real medium available to me back then was the written word, so I played with the idea of myself potentially using Tumblr as my anonymous confidante. I will note that the process of deciding what to post online was an act of curation by my adult self. I have posted passages that are expository (ie. They capture an age or mood really well), interesting and of course not too vulnerable. But, this may also emulate the process of what the Tumblr user decides to put online.
From there I created an instagram account for my younger self, uploading old photos and captioning them using the current codes and conventions of language I’ve encountered in my content analysis. I used instagram to visually represent moments outlined in my diaries. At times of self loathing and insecurity, I imagined my younger self searching ‘thinspiration’ and posted a few images I would hypothetically be exposed to. I tried to think about the different things I would post about when I was 12 to when I was 18- based on first hand accounts of those ages in my diary. I tried to think about how I would use instagram to lie to myself, about things I truly felt. I thought about how I could construct a public identity which differed from my more honest Tumblr interactions. And most of all, I tried to think about how I would use instagram as consolation for reality.
Believe it or not, I found this process more vulnerable than actually posting excerpts of a secret diary, as instagram feels less anonymous, being primarily image based. I was apprehensive about putting pictures of my younger self up in the public domain in the same way a mother feels uncomfortable about having photos of her child put up on Facebook- you never knew who would be looking. This hit home as I posted a image of the ‘thinspiration’ vein which said ‘name a food and I won’t eat it for a month’. A user, believing my profile was authored by a 12 year old girl, actually suggested a few foods for me to give up. Similarly, random users liked my photo ‘one like=one hour fasting’- encouraging a young girl to starve herself and while being on my profile, liking a few pictures of me at 12. This was disturbing and sobering, but showed how active the community who follows these hashtags are and how willingly they will reinforce eachother’s behaviour. After discussions with some of you guys in the lab, I decided to keep my profile public to see where it went and who would find it.