Isolation Through Screens
In day to day life, we put on different faces and personas as we interact with others; you are not the same person talking to your professor as you are with your parents. To me, there seems to be a perpetually changing larger 'super-identity', parts of which you present to others in life.
Having existed socially through screens for the past 3 months, it has started to feel as though my social identity is known through a pixelated 2D image and over capitalised (e.g. LOOOL), over punctuated(!!!??) text messages. In the sense of a super-identity, my 'virtual identity' is as much of a part of me as my identity when I am with my family, friends, and colleagues. Being forced to utilise a virtual identity as the main expression of identity seems dangerously inauthentic at the risk of social disconnect and superficial relations. Others only see what I show on my screen and not my surroundings. In many ways, including a literal sense, the self I present on a screen does not capture everything outside of the screen. I think, in this way, a virtual identity has a double-edged benefit of presenting the least representative version of your super-identity.
The first two photos provide an insight into my surroundings and allows a comparison to the screen which seems to float in a contextual vacuum.
The third photo is a self portrait capturing the disconnect and loss of fidelity of who I am through a number of screens, including the final one you view the photo on.
What struck you from what the other artist expressed?
It struck me that since we have (almost) all of our identity though a pixelated screen at the moment, that we might be hiding parts of ourselves away, and some of our identity is being lost.
I find these photos quite poignant and perhaps a bit creepy. The use of light and dark in your photos was very effective, especially as screen light has a distinctive eerie blue quality to it. I felt quite lonely seeing multiple disembodied faces on a screen in an empty room – the contrast really struck me.
After looking closely again at your images I sought out the full context of a quote around the self within community and found further resonance with yours and indeed Alex’s piece.
‘A strong community helps people develop a sense of true self, for only in community can the self exercise and fulfil its nature: giving and taking, listening and speaking, being and doing. But when community unravels and we lose touch with one another, the self atrophies and we lose touch with ourselves as well. Lacking opportunities to be ourselves in a web of relationships, our sense of self disappears, leading to behaviours that further fragment our relationships and further fragment the epidemic of inner emptiness.’
(Parker J Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: the journey towards an undivided life, 2004)
I was struck by the phrasing of 'hiding way' to get work done.
The delineation between light and dark is dramatic and adds an almost sculptural intensity to the photos. I find the images of the screens interesting, it effectively illustrates the quasi-connection that group calls give us. They give us access to those we care about and yet there is still something missing, a human element that is lost in the technology - I feel Sam’s work captures this well.
You touch upon a strange phenomenon, Sam – the way in which our identity during lockdown has become, in some ways, synonymous with the screen. I am particularly interested by your point about how we can choose what to present on the screen, hiding parts of our identity – such as our location – which might normally be separate from our chosen identity. This ties into what I take from both Sonya’s and Alex’s pieces, questioning which parts of ourselves we reveal to others.
How is that relevant to your experiences and did you have any new thoughts/reflections as a result of the creative piece?
I definitely understand this sense of social identity becoming virtual, loosing something in the process. Only when you meet up (socially distanced) with other people do we truly feel authentically ourselves. I felt even when I would meet with others socially distanced a part of who I used to be was still missing. Lacking physical touch in social interactions (hugging to greet, handshakes, etc.) feels like a restriction of yourself. I feel like this ties really well with Elizabeth’s piece.
I think it’s really interesting seeing the contrast between what those on zoom meetings can see and how something actually appears. We often choose to appear in certain ways to people – particularly in the digital world – and put on a positive face. I always check my room is tidy before calling anyone for example. I wonder if the increased use of digital media to communicate allows for more construction of identity and appearance than would occur in our normal lives?
Even the act of taking a photo is an art of construction – although I feel more involved in this room by seeing it from beyond a screen, I am still aware that it is a perspective which Sam has chosen to depict. There is more in the room than is shown. There is always more that can be shown in a photograph. Rather than being realistic, photography is just as creative and biased and deceptive as any other medium. As with any other art, our appreciation of it depends on how much we choose to trust in what we are shown. Each person will trust or distrust to a different extent. How much should we trust? What is it like to trust everything? What is it like to trust nothing?
I wonder will this tendency to over-punctuate and capitalize text etc. wind down as we move past this period of intense ‘keyboard’ companionship – I find the tendency re-assuring, however, given the pull towards withdrawal within lockdown.
Most of my interactions, also, are through the medium of some form of screen; I've been surprised by how many students and colleagues switch their video cameras off when they're on-line.
Sam’s piece has highlighted to me the importance of actual interaction with friends and family and as such I am oddly excited, I believe that the time post-lockdown will be a rather special one as we will be able to enjoy one another’s company in a way that will be entirely new and most welcome.
The third photo, the self-portrait, made me think about the layers of distance between the image that is projected and the actual artefact – our living bodies. How much of our identities can ever truly be conveyed through the 2D image? The ‘real’ you is at least three stages removed from the one I see, an image, of an image, of an image. And then again, what is the ‘real’ you? I think framing of the photo evokes this complexity and made question how much of myself I reveal to others, both in the physical world and virtually.
I felt even when I would meet with others socially distanced a part of whom I used to be was still missing. Lacking physical touch in social interactions (hugging to greet, handshakes, etc.) feels like a restriction of yourself. I feel like this ties really well with Elizabeth’s piece
You perfectly described the level of performance that I mentioned in my response to E’s comments. What is behind the photographer, perhaps mess and clutter, is entirely hidden. In this way, there seems to be an impasse in being able to convey that what you show on a screen is the authentic you. Maybe this isn’t entirely different from how we present ourselves to the public; we dress smartly and act responsibly as medical students. Yet, as young students this is likely far from the truth of our personal lives.
I think the fact that people prefer to turn off their cameras is really interesting. Maybe in real life sometimes we might wish we could turn off our faces, or the other person’s ability to see our face?
I purposely took photos in low lighting to obscure the background and only highlight what I, the photographer wanted to show. At the meta level, the photos have a level of performance and inauthenticity that I am trying to convey within the photo. Thanks for noticing and raising that point.
I like your question about the distortion of the ‘real you’ by screens. I think it’s really hard to tell right now how much of yourself was conveyed the way you wished over the internet. I think only time will tell, once we can meet those we have interacted with in person and have time for reflection.
You have represented this current situation very well, with your images reflecting the technology we have all had to adapt to, in order to stay connected with others. The use of this technology for me has been bittersweet, it offers conversation and connection, but without the nuances, proper eye contact and proximity that helps us to survive and to thrive as human beings. (Tracy)
Powerful, concentrated and thought-provoking, Sam. The still life featuring your desk must be the sort of scene that confronted most of us during lockdown and will be the memory that we want to erase when we get back to normal! At the same time, it deserves to be remembered as proof of what we went through and got through. The faces on the screens, including your own, come across as 2-D avatars and remind us that the third dimension, as well as the other senses, will be there to celebrate when we escape from our enclosed spaces into the real world out there. Timely and memorable. Thanks! (Gareth)