Shaping our Shadow


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A vital part of growing up is developing one’s identity. With ubiquitous access to others and easy access to participating in varied communities, how do we communicate ourselves to the world? The lines between our public and private lives have blurred with the rise of Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and other social networking sites. Often it is not only ourselves that make choices in how we sculpt our identity. What we choose to share and not share, but also the communities we participate in. There is a need to start a dialogue with each other as those around us add to the building of one’s own identity and the identity of us as a collective.

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  • I want to provide you a little background of a project I worked on that has influenced my new direction in exploring the idea of collective construction of identity within the family.
  • I’m part of Project New Media Literacies, an educational initiative focused on promoting the social skills and cultural competencies required to meaningfully engage with participatory culture. For the past three years, we collaborated with The GoodPlay Project. Harvard research group who study how young people think about ethical issues in online spaces. Together we co-developed Our Space This collaboration grew out of a shared interest in fostering ethical thinking, and conduct, among young people when they exercise their new media skills. Ethical thinking = the capacity to think about one’s roles and responsibilities in the communities in which one participates, offline and online. Such thinking requires the capacity to think abstractly about one’s roles; to do so in a nonpartisan, disinterested way; and to consider the impact of one’s actions beyond the self and on a larger collective—such as one’s school, community, state, nation, and world.
  • We each have the ability to build a networked cultural identity through the communities we choose to participate in and the profiles we shape or allow others to shape in the social networks we choose to belong to. Take for example, Sam who is an example used in one of the Our Space Identity lessons. Sam is a 13-year old from Illinois, who was chosen to participate in a contest by Edutopia, George Lucas Foundation’s non-profit organization whose mission is to support innovation and reform learning. This gave Sam the opportunity to personally design and submit a video that represented her own digital biography. Sam had the digital know-how to creatively showcase her interests. Sam was given the opportunity to consciously construct alternative identities for herself and fluidly move between her online and offline lives to emphasize different characteristics of who she is through use of game avatars, video edits, sound and image manipulation.
  • And Sam conducted her identity well because she was one of the chosen teens to represent Edutopia’s Digital Generation project. But this is where “impression management” is removed from Sam as a single author of her identity to one that is written by many. In being chosen to represent the digital generation, Edutopia producers, invited Sam as well as others close to her including her parents and teachers, to expound upon Sam’s biographical sketch portraying her identity in a more formal documentary, interview style persona. They then synthesize, edit and re-envision a new Sam to share with the world in relation to the other teens that were also chosen. Now and always, Sam will be known as part of this collective identity for others to reference in better understanding what today’s teens are like growing up with digital media. Sam is a positive example of the promises of digital media and how identity can be played out in our networked culture.
  • On the other hand, some forms of online identity exploration can be deceptive and can undermine relationships. Take for example timid, socially awkward Jessica who wanted to try on new identities and reinvented herself online as sexy gothic model, Autumn Edows. Jessica was one of many children portrayed in PBS’s Frontline Television show, “Growing Up Online: Just how radically is the Internet transforming the experience of childhood. ” Where Jessica walked the school hallways alone, Autumn gathered a fan following her every move. Through this experience, Jessica (aka Autumn) grew more confident, yet she kept this identity secret and it was by others hands that her parents ended up learning about her fame, resulting in her two worlds clashing into each other. As Jessica discovered through the creation of Autumn, information about identity posted online can often be seen and interpreted by people who we would never encounter face to face. Reality is skewed by how we shape the media to portray our identities, thus resulting in others having not the full picture of who we are.
  • But these examples I’ve shared our about two adolescent girls, who as teens have some control over how they shape their identities.
  • BUT ... * What about children who do not have control of their identity? * what about children who grow up within networked families who have a collective construction of identity? * What happens when a child transitions to adolescence and wants to represent themselves differently than how their families have shaped their identity as a child?
  • Recent AVG study showed that: 1) The average age children acquire an online presence is six months. 2) More than 70 percent of mothers posting baby pictures online and sharing them through social networking sites . Networked families is a fairly new phenomenon …we see it just beginning to emerge. YouTube released in 2005 …adoption by wider public in ??? DATE?? It is babies born within the last five years that will have to struggle with these questions as they move into adolescence. Is their questions we can pose to parents today to help plan for these conversations tomorrow? Search “sonogram” on YouTube -- thousands of videos, posted by men and women eager to claim their new identity as parents-to-be. Click on one of the sonogram videos, such as hearing the heart beat for the first time, and you’ll notice that it has been viewed by thousands of people. Comments range from personal where the mother is reflecting 9 months later on the video to random people who can identify with that moment in time as a form of nostalgia. It’s obvious from the comments that not all of the thousands who have viewed this one video are friends and family. Though we cannot identify who this child is, he or she has become part of a public mediated performance of how we shape childhood today. Posting a sonogram for all to see is the start of the screen becoming the child’s “shadow”, a representation of identity.
  • This representation of identity that we help shape childhood through is similar to the shadow of Peter Pan represented in J.M. Barrie's story. The Peter Pan story is representative of the trials and tribulations of being a child and coming of age into adulthood. At the beginning of Peter Pan , Peter's shadow somehow falls off and becomes free, detached from its original source …but not for long once Wendy captures it and sews it back on to Peter. Peter’s freed shadow jumping from bed to bed, changing shape, color and mass is a tangible representation of Peter’s identity.
  • A perfect example of a freed shadow is looking at the meme, David after Dentist (Show Video) According to David’s father, David was extremely nervous about going to the dentist so the father decided to shoot some video of before and after in order to help calm David’s nerves. The father also has shared that his wife wanted to go but had to work, so as is the case in today’s tele-cocooning family, videotaping the experience to share later has become the next best thing for families to “shadow” the experience. Within a week of posting, David’s YouTube video had over five million views that also has gone viral with many remixes of the original.
  • And, different talk shows invited David and his father to come on and re-tell again and again the story which allowed for commenting and showing it to a larger audience than those who saw it just on YouTube. Although the content of the video is seemingly innocuous David’s family has received monetary rewards that will help to support David’s future such as his college education. The question of whether or not it was fair to David for his father to share this intimate moment with the world needs to be asked, and people did just that through comments on the YouTube video that pointed to David’s father being inattentive and the Bill O’Reilly show agreeing with these outlying comments. No matter if the choice is to post or not to post something about a child to the public, people will form pictures of who we are on the basis of the information they find. Information is interpreted and reconfigured through the eyes of the beholder and these interpretations are layered onto the representation of our identity that we share with the public.
  • An everyday life experience from an ordinary family has turned their child into a “star” of the Internet world where people want to take photographs with him and have David sign autographs. David is a new type of child star emerging through playlists on YouTube. But what if David ends up not liking the media attention, as he gets older. He might rephrase his original question that put him into the limelight to, “Is this real or just a shadow of who I am?” A majority of his child identity is made up of one incident that has been taken up, remixed and shaped by the masses. However, shadows that are hidden over time can persist and come out of the dark when light is shed upon them and therefore, we cannot see children as passive participants when constructing who they are before they have a voice in the process. When does the child have a right to control the flow of information about his or her identity, especially when it is already out there and cannot be deleted?
  • When our homes become a public space for others to peek into, what happens to privacy and how is our collective identity as a family shaped and represented by others? The screen provides us a voyeuristic opportunity to peer into other people’s lives, perhaps for comparison to our own identity or just because we are curious. Parents need to be in the habit of reflecting on the potential consequences, for themselves and for their children, of such decisions because once it is shared via the screen, we can never fully extricate ourselves from history. This holds true for parents who include their children in the family’s public identity. If the child is at an early stage of development, he or she may not be aware of what it means to have a private moment and is trusting themselves completely to their caretaker. In a sense, parents view their children as extensions of themselves; therefore, sharing images and video of their children can be interpreted as a performance of their own identities as mothers or fathers.
  • ShayCarl from The Shaytards is a good example of the extension of his own performance onto his children. His byline on his website states, “My kids think I’m funny! And they’re cuter than your kids.” This statement holds true with an accounting of him, his wife and his kids through daily videos you can subscribe to, giving you the opportunity to shadow this family of five as they video document their life and share it with the public via their vlog, which is a form of blogging through video that has been around since 2005 and is often considered “web television”. You’ll notice on The Shaytards YouTube channel that tens of thousands of people subscribe to them for a lens into the life of this family. The multitude of videos on the YouTube channel are about daily life, whether its the Shaytards going fishing to shopping for PrincessTards 6th birthday to hanging out at home, learning how to do a back flip. A vlog such as the Shaytards has put the power of creating the story into the hands of the family, or more specifically the parents who are making the choices as to what to shoot and what to keep private and held within the walls of their home. However, many ethical concerns arise through the Shaytards offering an unscripted, often unedited account of their lives and with little rules yet established on the type of content allowed via the multitude of video and photo server sites.
  • One of the first questions people ask is “Why does ShayCarl, the father, name all his family with the suffix of –tard?” Many people assume that it is a shortened reference to the derogatory epithet “retard” and find the choice offensive. In actuality, however, the –tard suffix is given for other reasons including to safeguard the family by having each person go by a nickname to avoid revealing their real names but if you are new to the series and do not have this frame of reference, the naming can easily be misunderstood and taken out of context.
  • The other issue is when you are so prevalent throughout the web, though the thought was good, in reality fans have searched the video archive and due to unedited material, each person’s real name has been revealed – which brings into question the ethical dimensions of an outsider’s participation in forming one’s identity.
  • More heated controversy about the parenting style of the Shaytards abounds on social networks. One video of ShayCarl states that he became a vlogger so that he wouldn’t have to get a real job, but his content that he receives money on often evolves around the exploitation of his children, such as having their one-year old “maintain” a twitter stream – @rocktardstweets. The choices made today by parents Katielette and ShayCarl shape their children’s public identities now and for the future. It is their choice to participate in a Truman Show-esque existence, in which their family identity is linked to the public’s opinion of what it is like to be in this family. Within a family, social power is implicit during the early stages of childhood with the parents maintaining control and responsibility. Often, the first place a child’s identity is formed is at home with the family; parents are the first teachers, the influencers of their children. However, with family being mediated by technology, we must question whether or not parents understand the power that they wield and what type of representation of the 21 st century family is being projected and accepted as normative.
  • A vital part of growing up is developing one’s identity. YouTube began in 2005 and by 2010 had more than 14 billion videos and mass market appeal. It is this generation of kids being born today that will be shaped by their shadows created by their parents. For children like David or Rocktard who have parents who are early adopters -- they both have had their digital identities formed by their parents in public. The promise of these scenarios is that identity play will come more naturally to them because their identity so far has always been in relation to the online world. They also will have parents who will be more understanding of their actions as they make mistakes and learn from them. However, at the same time, this could become a disadvantage making it harder for either of them to manage and extricate the shadow that will follow them as they move into adolescence. As teens, they also might not see the point of using digital media as a space to try on new identities, which many adolescence view as part of a coming of age in today’s networked culture. One possibility for this potential lack of interest is that he might have a stronger awareness of how identity online can easily be tied to exploitation and monetization from his experience with his family.
  • Shaping our Shadow

    1. 1. <ul><li>Erin Reilly </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul><ul><li>University of Southern California </li></ul><ul><li>Annenberg Innovation Lab </li></ul>Shaping Our Shadow
    2. 2. Ethical fault lines in digital media <ul><li>Identity </li></ul><ul><li>Privacy </li></ul><ul><li>Ownership and Authorship </li></ul><ul><li>Credibility </li></ul><ul><li>Participation </li></ul>
    3. 7. Collective Identity <ul><li>What about children who do not have control of their identity? </li></ul><ul><li>What about children who grow up within networked families who have a collective construction of identity? </li></ul><ul><li>What happens when a child transitions to adolescence and wants to represent themselves differently than how their families have shaped their identity as a child? </li></ul>
    4. 15. ShayCarl Katielette Sontard Princesstard Babytard Rocktard