Assignment 4 – Digital Identities 1


Develop a project around the theme of identity within the current digital climate. This could be an autobiographical exploration examining how you relate to digital culture, or it could be a more critical examination of an aspect of digital culture.

The course guidance  suggests a brainstorm diagram / mind map of possible ideas as the start point. My brainstorm diagram in its rough form is included below.


Mind Map001A


What became immediately apparent was that the subject Digital Identity is vast and expanding. The more I thought about it, the more ideas came to mind. It will be extremely important to narrow down the subject to something which is achievable and where I will have a chance to bring in my own personal input, opinion and comment.

My next move was to sit down with a friend (professional photographer) and talk through potential ideas. Refer to the following link for details of this preliminary discussion: Part 4 – Digital Identities

The idea I have come up with is to create false Facebook and Instagram accounts and to attempt to create a digital identity for a person who has only just been created. The accounts are now set up in the name of my paternal grandfather Sidney Caygill and my first thoughts are that this will serve two main purposes:

  1. To allow me to broadcast the voice of how I believe my grandfather would have spoken had he been alive today. (he died in the early 1960s)
  2. To use these forums to publish my own photographs which would be a combination of my best quality pictures mixed in with more instantaneous, up to the minute pictures much in the style of the archetypal ‘facbebooker’ of today.

So my fantasy being would be similar to an avatar but with a real history and real views and expressions blended in with the reality of today’s photography (including video).

My very first screengrab shows Sidney’s initial setup. This was initially made on the IPhone.

Screenshot A

The first thought was to change the profile picture (a snap taken on the iPhone of myself.

I decided that any self portrait should be presented as Sidney’s self portrait and that it would become obvious over time that Sidney and Colin are one and the same.

The research I have done to date on Second life and the work of Robbie Cooper, Gina Lundy, Jim Naughton and Nikki S Lee have given some insight into how I should present myself as somebody else. However a lot of the development of the idea can only be made over time. The project is experimental and success can not be guaranteed.

11 May 2017

I am currently at the start point and a lot of planning has gone into how and what to publish. It will be necessary to publish pretty well daily and to approach the online community in a manner which will encourage them to follow and like (or dislike) what I say and do. It is important to remain anonymous for as long as I can, otherwise I will be constantly driven towards people who I know and this will curtail the freedom which I intend to use to the full.

2 June 2017

The difficulty with creating a new identity totally unrelated to one’s current identity is where to start. After a few days with no contact with the outside world, I started to work on the Facebook account and the very first move was to set up a profile, including a profile photo and create a set of personal favourite photographs.

Screenshot A(3)



Then I spent some time considering which groups to join. This could be a useful outlet for publishing my photographs and following and making friends. The first two groups I tried to join did not respond and I thought this was because my profile was a bit thin and I had no friends so I attempted to join about 15 Photographic groups and responses started to flow. I am currently a member of ten photographic groups and have had one friend request so far.

Screenshot A(1)

The next move is to start publishing on the group facebook pages and to start interacting with the users.

Screenshot A(2)


Using the activity log it is possible to see how many likes, friends and followers are being developed and at what speed.

2 June 2017

I have copied the above part of the blog (provisional) to my Tutor for comment / approval of the idea.

8 June 2017

The response is really positive and having passed through a period of anxiety, this gives me the motivation to proceed with the project:

Chris Coekin

“Thanks for this. I really like the idea and that you could produce an engaging project. There is lots of room to be creative and consider various narratives, serious and playful. I think that joining established associations is a good idea and that interface and communication with something factual adds an interesting element. As you have said looking at the notion of Avatars is good. I’d also suggest that you look at the artists below who have constructed fictional people and narratives within their work, this may be of help.

Joan Fontcuberta:
(Holy Innocence – difficult to find much info)

Jamie Shovlin  Naomi (V Jelish etc)”

10 / 11 June 2017

With ten established facebook groups, I have now started to post some of my photographs (serious) which relate to these groups.

This is a good exercise and one which will lead me to consider very carefully what I like, what excites me and to help find my voice.

I have posted one picture on each of seven groups and within 24 hours have received 51 likes.


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So now it is possible to start analysing popularity which may lead to a more analytical approach to what is good and what is unsuccessful. I can add these results to my own feelings in order to make a judgement on which way my photography should go (Personal Voice).

It will also help to find out which groups are active and which are not in order to publish my work with the maximum exposure.

I am still pondering over which groups to work with and which people to invite to be friends. I do not want to upset any people by appearing as a dangerous character but I do want to probe deeply into the activities of a few people. Should I target people whose pictures I respect or be a little more flippant and target anybody with an interesting background?

14 June 2017

The woman in green has now been renamed “La Dame en Vert” by Isabelle Collington of the Bibliotheque Nationale de France. She has been put onto the Street Photography Club gallery because of her high popularity. Not viral but definitely a positive step for Sidney.


Screenshot (18)A


I have still not made any friends but have had six friend requests by email, none of which have shown up on my facebook page. On interrogating these names it started to appear that these requests were questionable, one in particular offering prostitution. Now Sidney may be an old man with no friends but does not intend to pursue prostitution as an option.

After looking up this one person (who had 40 or 50 friends herself, I then contracted a computer virus or some sort of infringement of a firewall and spent the next 48 hours putting my computer back together. My grandfather would have been horrified.

Once the following message had been cleared I was back to normal:

Screenshot (1)

I have today made two friend requests, to people who have given the lady in green a “Love” signal and I have started to follow three people who gave her a “Like” signal. This is a test to see whether people will make friends without knowing me (Sidney).

My first friend is Jim Tulip from Thailand.

Screenshot (20)

26 June 2017

Sidney now has three friends, Jim Tulip, Folio Graphy and Tony Tsai. He has now issued a further set of pictures on the various groups and has madem one further friend request. To me it is very important not to choose just anybody as friends but to be selective based on their photographic ability and their personality. He has not had to reject anybody yet or to unfriend them but remains cautious about who to deal with. Sidney has had more friend requests from what appear to be bogus women of ill repute and has been involved in another questionable (infectious) message which he was more prepared to get rid of than last time.

2 July 2017

Sidney has posted more pictures, mainly street photography and portraits and now has 5 friends and an interesting quality circle of friends / information.

I have also investigated the possibility of using Instagram in the same way. Instagram is new to me and it appears at first sight that, owing to the fact that there are no groups, I will have to take a different approach to becoming a part of the community.

I propose to publish a starter pack of photographs and apply hashtags such as photographs, photography, street photography, portraits or whatever subject I decide to promote and in that way to gain interest and hopefully friendships. I have downloaded Gramblr onto my system and may need to use the power that they can provide by buying likes and spreading them around.

The other piece of work I have been working on is to research others who have involved themselves in false identity in the name of art.

My tutor has referred me to Joan Fontcuberta’s false negatives:

Fontcuberta has made a career of many hoaxes. He invented the story of the Russian spaceman and his dog, hit by a meteorite in space and floating around for ever without being reported. The story was exposed on Spanish TV by Iker Jimenez who believed it to be real. The truth was finally exposed which upset the Russian authorities. Or did it?

Fontcuberta saw this as art and the most pressing question which it exposes is:

How can we know what is real and what is not?

Also Joan Fontcuberta’s Holy Innocence:

Fontcuberta pretended to be a priest and communicated with an internet swindler. The result is a book based on demonstrating the potential of working entirely with spam and junk mail.

His work has been described as a pedagogy of doubt protecting us from the disease of manipulation.

And Jamie Shovlin’s various exhibitions for instance at the Saatchi Gallery:

Naomi V Jelish  is a sad story about a fictitious girl. The name is an anagram of Jamie Shovlin

This is the sad story of a very talented 13 year old who disappeared together with her family when her father died. The story was told in an exhibition in London. Her strange tale was explained to visitors on labels, in newspaper cuttings, photographs, school reports and through personal mementoes.

It was not until later that the story was found to be a hoax.

The question from these references is how can I develop my own myth / fantasy with reference to these other fictitious cases?

23 July 2017

“Our contemporary culture of communication is increasingly dominated by visual representation and the flow and exchange of high quality visual images” (Giroux 2004 p 789)

At this stage I am considering what outcomes I would like to achieve. I am trying to cross all social barriers, gender, race, ethnicity, class, demarcation, nationality, citizenship, schooling, sexuality, socio economic status, educational experience and career.

The book “Digital Identities by Rob Cover will help me to explore these potential barriers before I move on with the project.


Exercise 4.4 – The Selfie

What does the phenomenon of the selfie tell us about how photography is popularly used nowadays?

A selfie is a self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a digital camera or camera phone held in the hand or supported by a selfie stick. (Wikipedia)

The selfie was named as word of the year by Oxford English Dictionaries in 2013. Although the Wikipedia definition refers only to a hand held digital photograph, the definition of the selfie is now expanding to encompass more versions of the self portrait. It is at least a sub-category of self portrait and has been compared by scholars (, Alise Tifentale, The City University of New York)  with the early photographs, for example Hippolyte Bayard’s “Portrait of a Drowned Man (1840)”.


The selfie has been a part of the recent photographic revolution where digital cameras can be tied into the internet mainly by social media. This has encouraged the transmission of digital photographs on a huge scale. As an example the selfie in 2013 was responsible for 4% of all the photographs posted on Instagram ( This is a large but not necessarily dominant percentage.

The selfie has been popularly used to keep the image of a person in the minds of many. This is a useful tool for self publicists such as celebrities of all kinds and so the majority of selfies show a brand which seeks social rewards. The selfie would normally demonstrate positive, happy, accomplished, proud, well dressed, seductive or sexy.



Fawad Khan

It is rare that selfies show pictures of couch potatoes or people in ugly leggings. probably one in a hundred.


But the selfie can be used to generate other responses, perhaps shock or fear or celebrity.

The Abu Ghraib photographs have been tabled in many instances and Susan Sontag’s item in the New York Times “Regarding the Torture of Others” debates very clearly whether the atrocity was the taking of the photographs or the act of war by the American Government but the most revealing photograph, taken of Lynndie England and a group of the prisoners was to all intents and purposes a selfie and can be found under the title #selfie in most social media:



Referring back to earlier studies on Memes (Journal of Visual Culture, Limor Shifman), the tourist guy, Peter Guzli, used a selfie and inserted it into a world event, in this case the destruction of the twin towers New York, setting off a whole lot of copycat memes:


So there are many ways of using selfies to publicise events or to gain fame by promoting yourself to “breaking news” (Paradigm Shift).

The selfe is continuously being used to prove current news items and is often the first picture to be seen in breaking news reducing the power of the traditional photojournalist. There are millions of photojournalists in the world today and although only a small amount of their pictures make their way towards the newspapers and TV channels, a vast amount of the information is transmitted as news via twitter, facebook, instagram etc. and this is becoming the news of the future. (ref. Donald Trump’s many efforts to bypass the American news media). These photographs, whether political, comical or informative,  are viewed very quickly by millions of “followers” and transmitted from “friend” to “friend” to become the news of the day.

Reference List

Tifentale, A. (2013) Making Sense of the “Masturbation of Self Image” and “Virtual Mini-Me”. City University of New York

Shifman, L. (2013) Journal of Visual Culture. The cultural Logic of Photo-Based Meme Genres. Sage Publications

Sontag, S. (2004) Regarding the torture of Others. New York Times Magazine

Cover, R (2016) Digital Identities – Creating and Communicating the Online Self. Nikki Levy



The Selfie: Making sense of the “Masturbation of Self-Image” and the “Virtual Mini-Me”

These are notes about an article by Alise Tifentale, The Graduate Centre, City University of New York

Selfie City and the Networked Camera (intro)

Selfiecity is a research project led by Dr Lev Manovich as an attempt to make sense of a multitude of selfies posted on Instagram.

What could a group of selfies taken in a specific city say about that city? Could they also help in defining social media for the future? Selfies suggest new approaches to studies of vernacular photography.

A selfie is a form of self expression as well as a communal and social practice.

The study looked at selfies taken in Bangkok, Berlin, Moscow, New York and Sao Paulo.

640 selfies were studied from each city.

Why do Selfies Matter?

By posting selfies, people keep their image in other people’s minds. They are used to post a specific impression of oneself (seeking social rewards). We now all behave as brands and the selfie is simply brand advertising. It is an opportunity to position ourselves. Trying to sell the best version of #me. Positive, happy, accomplished, proud, well-dressed, seductive or sexy.

So, selfies are a means of self expression, a construction of a positive image, a tool of self promotion, a cry for attention or love, a way to express a sense of belonging to a community.

These are the majority and then there are the oddballs but it is rare that selfies contain pictures of couch potatoes or people in ugly leggings.

On Instagram, selfies are not everything. Only approximately 4% of all photographs posted are selfies.

Selfie of old and new genre of photography

The selfie can be describes as an emerging sub-genre of self portraiture. The first acclaimed example of an artistic self portrait was Hippolyte Bayard’s Self-Portrait of a Drowned Man (1840). Traditionally self portraits outdoors were taken next to a classical or Egyptian ruin. Indoors a mirror was often used or with a plain (studio) background. For today’s self portraits, the background choices are endless.

Why Instagram Matters

In 2013 there were 150 million Instagram users. the population of the world was 7.1 billion so Instagram users are a fairly small percentage. Mainly smartphone users and average age 23. But Instagram automatically adds geospacial information and time stamps which are important for this study. All pictures are square. 612×612 and we can view it as an archive in the process of becoming. Unfinished, live and living.

Art of the Masses

The selfie is the vernacular of the 21st century. It has already entered the museum and the art world. The video installation National #Selfie Portrait Gallery was a fine example. The artworks are often presented as large sets of images. This raises the question “Are all selfies art?” Perhaps they are to the masses if not to the conservatives.

Taking a snapshot of a paradigm shift

Since the connection of the smartphone to the internet, the practise and experience of everyday photography have become more important than the pictures themselves. Social media has created an enormous paradigm shift in what types of stories are considered “breaking news”. It may be the home video of a baby performing a particular trick. The simplicity of online sharing of images taken with smartphone is one of the factors that contributes to the shift.


Selfiecity reaches into different fields of enquiry. The project is about photography and self-portraiture. Yet it is as much about measuring the limits of the latest software designed to analyse large amounts of visual information. The project views social media as a vehicle of voluntary interpersonal communication, thus becoming a study of human behaviour.

note: The term #selfie was first used on Instagram on November 19 2013. The first hashtag was used on Instagram on January 27 2011.


Regarding the Torture of Others

Article in NY Times by Susan Sontag, May 23 2004 (Link 7)

This article refers to the photographs taken in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq (originally Sadam Hussein’s most infamous prison).

The Bush administration started by trying to limit a PR disaster. But they referred only to the photographs. Sontag was more interested in the crime of what they depict rather than the photographs themselves. In her view the pictures showed the results of torture not just the results of humiliation as described by the US government. An admission of torture would nullify America’s right to undertake unilateral action on the world stage.

It is unusual for the perpetrators to include themselves in photographs of the victims of war. In Nazi Germany there were many cases where the Germans photographed the victims of war for their own personal benefit but they never included themselves in the pictures. there were pictures in the 1880s and 1930s of white Americans grinning beneath the naked mutilated bodies of black men and women but these were regarded as justifiable at the time.

Where once photographing war was the province of photojournalists, now the soldiers themselves are all photographers, swapping images, transmitting photographs by email and (today) social media. Today the photographs play a different role, more to transmit information than to preserve and keep in an album.

Today there are many instances where individuals log every aspect of their lives down to the act of brushing their teeth. This is a photographic record just like the soldier’s record of an atrocity at war, which today cannot be avoided.

When transmitted, the pictures are usually there to describe “fun” contrary to the attempt by George Bush to show the American efforts as the opposite. And there are many instances in American life today where fun has been extended to the unnatural – pornography, video games of killing etc. Easy delight in violence and sexual humiliation appears to have grown. Is it fun whether it is real or a fantasy? To stack naked men was regarded by many as a college prank.

The effect that the pictures had on the Bush administration was much more powerful than the many words which had been written before them because they were impossible to cover up. Words can be hidden. Photographs can not. The government tried to justify the humiliation saying that it would only happen to the criminals, the murderers of American soldiers but in fact a lot of these victims had committed no crime. they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Governments are still trying to suppress these photographs and there are many more photographs and videos which, as yet, have not been published.

However painful these pictures are to succeeding governments of all countries they will be unstoppable and a contributor to the shape of world politics going forward.


Exercise 4.3 Creating a Meme

Taking inspiration from an image or idea you’ve researched, create your own interpretation of an internet meme. This may be something original , or your own interpretation of an existing meme. It might be funny or profound, but it should make people want to look at it and share it.

My idea for this exercise is to look back on the work I completed relating to exercise  1.3,  News Event.



At the time of completing this work, I had not considered the idea of memes but having read the reference link no. 4 from the journal of visual culture “The cultural logic of photo – based meme genres” by Limor Shifman it occurred to me that one of my favourite memes from this article (Asian Father) could set the pattern for a development of my Donald Trump series.


The first question was whether to use one of my original photos, say the lightbulb photo or whether to use a straight portrait, instantly recognisable by the general public.

The second question was what part of Donald Trump’s life / career as president could be used as the basis for the comments.

The meme relating to the Asian father was described as a Stock Character Macro and I wanted to follow almost exactly in this style so the comments need to be slightly sarcastic about a driven but slightly flawed character.

The problem arose when I googled Donald Trump Meme and discovered that this had been done many times before:

However most of the jokes appeared to be about his hair and his personality (derogatory).

So I have created a series of memes which include well known quotations that describe his arrogance and stupidity:



The Cultural Logic of Photo Based Meme Genres


This is a rep[ort on an article by Limor Shifman taken from the Journal of Visual Culture:

The article looks at the cultural meaning of contemporary meme genres in terms of :

  • Reaction Photoshops
  • Stock Character Macros
  • Photo Fads

Photo based memes function as:

  • Modes of hypersignification – The code becomes the focus of attention
  • Prospective photography – Photographs are the raw materials for future photographs
  • Operative signs – Invitations for creative action

Meme genres may serve as valuable keys for understanding broader dimensions of visual culture.

An internet meme is a group of digital items that (a) share common characteristics (b) are created with an awareness of each other and (c) are circulated , imitated and transformed via the internet via multiple users.

Shifman deviates from Dawkins belief that a meme is a single cultural unit. He believes that memes are groups of content units because in the digital age it is possible to access many versions of the same thing. In the past a single version would be more likely, ref. birdsong, a joke or whatever.

Memes are therefore enormous groups of texts and images. If memes are collections of texts, meme genres are collections of collections.

Photos:  Playing with photos has been an important part of digital culture since the early 2000s.

Reaction Photoshops Collections of edited images created in response to a small set of prominent photographs (memetic photos). eg the situation room.

Stock Character Macros are image macros (images superimposed with text) that refer to a set of stock characters representing stereotypical behaviours. eg sheltering suburban mom.

Photo Fads are staged photos of people who imitate specific positions in various settings. eg planking, heads in freezers.

The genres range from political and social issues to whimsical themes associated with self performance.

Their form can be photoshopped juxtapositions, photos with captions or unedited photos.

These genres invite a number of user behaviours:

  • edit and combine existing images
  • adding text (captions)
  • performance in the theatre of digital culture

Beyond this divergence these genres share three basic qualities, hypersignification, prospective orientation and operability.


“The code itself is no longer concealed but turned into a sign.” Hypersignification can be found in the three genres as follows:

Reaction Photoshops

The tourist guy is an example of a reaction photoshop demonstrating hypersignification. The photo was framed at first as a rare capture of a tragic moment 9/11, circulated over the internet and then suddenly discovered to be a hoax. It was not until this moment that many people copied the idea and put him into similar death threatening situations. It is a good example of understanding the differences between memetic photographs and truthfulness:

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Other examples are disaster girl and cigar guy (can be visited via google).

Photos that invite memetic responses are often political, eg the situation room which was set up to advertise the fact that Bin Laden is dead without showing a picture of his body. one interpretation of this was the transformation of the figures into fictional characters or including fictional characters in the group.

Iconic photos are similar to memes in some ways but instead of being manipulated they freeze concrete historical moments and it is unlikely that they would be used for satire. They are too powerful.

Stock Character macros

In stock character macros, hypersignification is located in the construction of stereotypes. It often associates a certain (negative) feature with a specific social category, eg “annoying facebook girl”.

Another good example is the high expectation Asian father.

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Stock Photography is all about the mystification of stereotypes. Basic information which can be used in many contexts. In the case of memes, the meme always has a theme.

Photo Fads

In Photo Fads hypersignification may be associated with the pose. Posing in an exaggerated way is quite common especially with the growth of social media.

Repetitive exaggeration leads to photofads. eg Head in the freezer. This argument builds on Olga Goriunova’s conceptualisation of idiocy as a core characteristic of contemporary participatory culture.


Prospective Orientation

These three meme genres have been described in the present but they are also oriented towards the future (not the past) as they are designed to elicit further versions.

Photo based meme genres deepen these temporal transitions from the past to the present.


Hypersignification and prospective orientation have been defined so far as distinct. However there is a link between them  They perform an autonomous function related to techniques of symbolic manipulation, dissemination and storage.

Meme genres work in a similar way. Just like a pointing hand icon waiting to be clicked they are operative signs, designed as invitations for creatve action.

Exercise 4.2 – Foucault’s Theory of Panopticism

Facts taken from Foucault: Discipline and Punish (London, Penguin, 1977) with my own personal conclusion in the last paragraph.

Referring back to the great plague (17 century), the measures taken had to be carefully planned (down to the finest detail) and executed. Just as the leper gave rise to rituals of exclusion, the plague gave rise to disciplinary projects.

They have both helped to achieve political dreams:

  • Leper – the dream of the perfectly governed city.
  • Plague – the ideal exercise of disciplinary power.

These are different principles but are not incompatible. In the 19th century, authorities exercised individual control function according to this double mode, branding (is he mad / sane, dangerous / harmless, normal / abnormal) and coercive assignment (who is he, how he is to be recognised, what sort of surveillance does he require). These were the principles developed for prisons, schools, hospitals . This led to the development of Bentham’s panopticon. By observing an outer curve from a central source it is possible to observe every point on this curve, therefore if, for example, criminals were placed around this curve, they could all be observed by one man. This is similar to the principle used today in a hospital intensive care unit. The principle can also be applied to small theatres where each actor is alone but observed by all.

Each prisoner is separated from another which is the exact opposite of those Hogarthian pictures of the masses. Control is better assured. The crowd is abolished and replaced by collective individualism. This has different but always positive effect on schoolchildren, contagious hospital patients, prisoners, madmen.

Another important mechanism devised by Bentham was that power should be visible and unverifiable and by clever design details, the use of venetian blinds etc. this could be achieved, particularly in prisons.

The panopticon allows the user to draw up differences through observation, symptoms of each patient, performance of each child etc. It can also be used as a machine to carry out experiments, to alter behaviour, to teach different techniques or to carry out different punishments.

In each application it is possible to perfect the exercise of power. This is done mainly by reducing the number of people exercising it and increasing the number it is exercised upon. This power can be used to intensify production, so this brings the theory into the commercial world. So the panopticon can unlock mechanisms throughout the whole social body.

After Bentham, Julius stated that the panopticon led to much more than architectural ingenuity. “It was an event in the history of the human mind.” Through it a whole type of society emerges.

The modern age poses the opposite problem: “To procure for a small number or even for an individual the instantaneous view of a great multitude”. We all operate within the panoptic machine, invested by its effects of power which we bring to ourselves since we are part of its mechanism.

In today’s terms our single gaze is directed outwards, towards digital media in particular, we are using a reversal of the panopticon to take control of our own personal worlds. We are no longer part of the “oppressed masses” but the implication is that the power which we exert will change the world and this is being seen at the moment via the use of social media in particular. Press photographers no longer exist, politicians can no longer deceive, vital information can  no longer be with held. Ref, Donald Trump, WikiLeaks and the recent successful campaign (on the ball) of the labour party.

Exercise 4.1 – False or Alternative Identities

Write an entry in your learning log (up to 500 words) about the creation of false or alternative identities online.


Link 2 – Online Games Unmasked

Characters in Second Life by Robbie Cooper

Bae Kyun – Eun is Persia

Plays a man because she thinks male avatars have more charisma. All the masters in the game are male. Enjoys interaction with others.

Lee Dong Chang is Bi UI

He is shy and has narrow human relationships. His avatar has the same characteristics.

Seang Rak Choi is Uroo Ahs

Poses as a little girl who buys and sells items in the game world. He has amassed a lot of gaming money (Adena).

Yoon Yae is Yahin

He is one of 33 Kings of Lineage. His managerial skills help him maintain control of Aden Castles.

Bill is Shipwreck

He transports gold bullion for the federal reserve. He logs on at Wi-Fi enabled truck stops and travels across virtual galaxies. He makes a lot of money.

Chris is Blakkphire

He plays city of heroes which is where he met his last girlfriend. He tries to make his character much like himself.

Mark is Marcos Fanzorelli

He manufactures and sells robot avatars to make an income of $200 per month (clothes for female avatars would make much more money).

Lee Eun – Sol is freelancer

He is an expert at magic. He doesn’t distinguish between reality and illusion.

T is War Catalyst

The game helped him move away from crime.

Matt is Mattokun

Uses the game to learn Japanese. He writes in Romaji and gets responses in Japanese text.

500 Words

Much has been said recently in the media about false information transmitted digitally via the social media sites in particular. This brings into question who is portrayed as false (Digital Identity) and who is real and whether it is possible to tell the difference.

Research on the course material and references via the course links show detail about the players of the computer game “Second Life” which started on the internet in 2003.

Players created avatars of themselves as they would like to be within the digital world and these avatars developed into more and more complex beings with a specific identity. They then visited other avatars and started to interact.

This was all very clean and above board and generally with no devious intent:

  • Mark Manufactures and sells robot avatars.
  • Chris plays “city of heroes”
  • Lee is an expert in magic and cannot decipher the difference between fiction and reality.

That was fourteen years ago and one of the current problems with a university degree information pack is that information is not static as it used to be.

So today things are different:

  • Donald Trump talks about misinformation and corruption within the press.
  • Theresa may employs advisers who appear to be working against the desires of key cabinet members.
  • There was Watergate and now there is “Russiagate”

So how do we know who to trust? Have our photographs been manipulated? Is the metadata inaccurate? Does the Queen tell the truth? Why don’t Sinn Fein attend the House of Commons?

There have always been warnings about Wikipedia, particularly from within academic establishments. But now that it is policed better than it was, it is probably a much more reliable source than many other sources of information.

For instance Wikipedia’s comment on the concerns related to online identity appear to me to be very sound (as follows):

“Primarily, concerns regarding virtual identity revolve around the areas of misrepresentation and the contrasting effects of on and offline existence. Sexuality and sexual behavior online provide some of the most controversial debate with many concerned about the predatory nature of some users.”

It is becoming apparent in 2017 that the connection between many (if not all) online and offline lives blur reality of experience with fiction. Back to the avatars created for “second life”. These were originally clearly defined but as time moved on the individual often found it difficult to separate out reality.

The development of virtual sex, for instance can drastically unsettle the division between mind, body and self (McRae). It is unlikely that this would have a positive effect.

However, the differences between Personal Identity and Digital Identity are not all for negative effect.

The freedom which social media has given to individuals who find it difficult to communicate face-to-face (for example autistic, blind, deaf, physically deformed or simply shy) has empowered them by allowing them to contribute what they have and previously found difficult to contribute, and has allowed them to grow at a much faster rate emotionally and with confidence.

Development of false identities will continue to grow (probably exponentially).

Part 4 – Digital Identities

Wikipedia Definition – “A digital identity is information on an entity used by computer systems to represent an external agent. That agent may be a person, organisation, application or device.”

An alternative to this which is much more palatable to me is “The entire collection of information generated by a person’s online activity. This includes usernames, passwords, online search activities, birthdate, social security and purchasing history. Especially where this information is publicly available, and can be used by others to discover that person’s civil identity, in the wider sense a digital identity is a version or facet of a person’s social identity.”

The Digital Self

Art provides opportunity for people to represent themselves.

Photography started with the “carte de visite” leading to the self portrait and then to the selfie.  The modern day equivalent of the carte de visite is the computer data which makes up a personal profile on, say, facebook or Instagram (or in business terms, linkedin) – photo, writeup, list of interest, contact details.

Avatars and Alter Egos

There are many examples of false identities being used on the internet. Often this is just a self flattering email address or an exotic chatroom username.

Second Life

The online game, second life, allows for the opportunity to develop alternative digital persona so that a person can blur the real and the imaginary. It is possible to create a personal 3-D environment and visit others:

Artists digitise work, exhibit and market to others.

Musicians digitise their performances.

The human psyche is multi faceted. Id / Ego / Super Ego.

Does super ego relate to digital self?  Not really, as digital self is more contrived than perfect.

After a detailed look at some of the characters in second life, my ideas are developing to use the basis of this detail to write the answer to exercise 4.1.

“Write an entry in your learning log (up to 500 words) about the creation of false or alternative identities online. “

This will be developed in the next blog.

Assignment 4 Planning

At this early stage of part 4, I have to consider ideas for assignment 4 – Digital Identities 1.
Idea: Take a person or group of people. Create a one minute video of each (say three total) describing their digital identity. Photograph them in their working environment and at leisure.
Possibly set up a website to display the results.

But first I need to log my discussion with Richard Weston (professional photographer and friend) relating to Assignment 4 planning.

Following my own personal brainstorm on the subject of Digital Identities, I showed Richard a rough diagram as follows:

Mind Map001A

The discussion started with an analysis of the diagram looking at groups of ideas which may be of interest. It was important to choose a subject which I was passionate about. The first idea was to interview various people and discuss their digital identity producing short video clips about each one. This was my original idea but we also talked about false identities and avatars and, influenced by the course material referring to the avatars in “second life” we started to come towards the idea of a web based exercise looking at Facebook and Instagram. we talked about different approaches on facebook and considered whether there was a particular behaviour which would be of interest. I have a nephew who is autistic and who gains tremendous strength from the facebook community. Would that be a good subject to study?

But our conversation kept returning to false identities and in the end we agreed that the project should be based on setting up a new identity within Facebook and Instagram and monitoring how a digital identity could be developed from nothing.

The blog Assignment 4 – Digital Identities 1 continues from this point.





Assignment 3 -Critical Essay


What is your understanding of the “digital self” and what is the effect of our everyday use of photography upon it? Discuss using relevant case studies and published research.


On interrogation of the OCA student website resources section and an exhaustive trawl of internet references it became apparent that there is no fixed definition of ‘The Digital Self’. The definition of this new subject is still evolving and, as “The Symbolic Interaction Journal” put it:

‘The impact of others in telecopresence on the formation of self has not been well studied’ (Zhao, 2005, Symbolic Interaction Journal)

Zhao goes on to try to define digital self by stating:

‘Based on the analysis of teenagers’ online experience, the present study shows that others on the internet constitute a distinctive “looking glass” that produces a “digital self” that differs from the self formed offline’

This definition was made in 2005, nearly twelve years ago. How have things changed since then? This article was referring to online presence, mainly referring to the development of teenagers. Today, there are 3.26 billion internet users, approximately 40% of the world’s population. At the turn of the century, the digital camera started to become a viable proposition for amateur as well as professional use. At this stage quality of picture was still poor but amateurs (and professionals) could see the potential and worked hard to convert from analogue technology. The fax machine started to die out and the digital scan came in. Photocopiers worked in colour as well as black and white. Telephone banking turned into online banking. Shopping was no longer about visiting the shops. Holidays were no longer booked through travel agents by asking them to telephone a resort and an airline or shipping company.

These changes have all contributed towards the formation of the digital self, a concept which is growing rapidly.

OCA course material for Graphic Design GD2 entitled “How to B” puts it well:

‘ We’re all digital now. In many parts of daily life the digital way is now the norm. Life is unthinkable without our digital life-support systems of smart software and sleek gismos’ (Graphic Design GD2, p.103)

So our digital self is many things and is in fact everything in our lives which requires some form of digital input. The majority of this is our life online but do we behave differently online to offline?

‘In early days our online activity did not have much influence over our real world persona. Things are very different today’ (Premuzic, Sept 24 2015, Guardian, How different are your online and offline personalities)

In 2015, according to OFCOM, UK adults were spending an average of 20 hours per week online, twice as much as 10 years previously. As the internet has gained importance in our lives we have given up anonymity, and have needed to mask our true identity online. Now online activity is an integral part of our real life and so as it changes our outlook on life so our real life personality changes.

At least 30% of our time online is devoted to social networking and this is one area where the integration of photography becomes powerful. No social networker needs to have a great understanding of photographic technique to produce excellent photographs at the right quality for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. An up to date mobile phone will take pictures that can be transmitted in seconds.

Apart from social networking, the mobile phone can be used by adults or children to provide photographs which illustrate our desired identity (e.g. for selling on ebay) , for recording everyday activities (on the spot) for use as citizen journalism, for identifying information all around us rather than writing it down (a quick photograph of the calorie count on the back of a cornflake packet) or for recording information useful for insurance claims, proof of location or who we are with. All this forms part of the digital self.

The use of video is now also expanding exponentially and this adds the parameters of movement and sound.

But it’s not only about the photographs which we take, it’s also about the millions of images we are subjected to continuously. An early piece of work within this course was to photograph every photograph seen in a one day period Exposure Exercise. The number of photographs ran into hundreds and the exercise ended up as quite exhausting. The influence, sometimes sub conscious, of these photographs on the self is immense.

Once again Thomas Chamorro Premuzic writing in the Guardian brings us right up to date. He states :

‘Today more social interactions are initiated, maintained and furthered online than offline’

If this is true, and it is certainly true for some people, does this mean that we have reached “digital saturation” or is there further to go? Digital saturation could be a little like compassion fatigue and have a negative impact on future generations.

For now, Premuzic says:

‘People do not interact digitally in the way they would interact in real life. At this point the digital self has well and truly broken away and started to develop a life of its own’

‘In this parallel existence, likeability is measured by the amount of ‘friends’ and ‘fans’ acquired’ (Premuzic)

Users judge themselves and self esteem varies according to user sensitivity.

The use of photographs can become a danger. The publisher will have lost track of whether or not the photographs are for public view or restricted (usually by default they become public) and will be unaware that photographs or text could be incriminating. e.g. information could be used by the press.

There is no doubt that people drop their guard when they are networking. Dr Premuzic believes that this is mainly because you no longer need to acknowledge the physical presence of the person you are dealing with. All physical influence is removed.

‘Humans are 80% visual creatures and crave for an image. Photos still say more to us and determine more whether we like someone or not, than a million words. This is how superficial people are: looks are all too-powerful and personality is a superficial second’ (Premuzic, 2015, Guardian)

So when does social networking become dangerous?

The simple answer to this is that it becomes dangerous when it becomes addictive. There are however benefits to social networking:

  • Relationships are made more quickly
  • Physical boundaries are eliminated
  • There is a structured approach.

‘Social networking is to relationships what google is to knowledge. The websites are neither good or bad. It depends on what users do.’

The use of a photograph can be enlightening, cheerful, comical, powerfully impressive,  confrontational, insulting, shocking or frightening.

Using social networking and therefore developing your digital self has become an essential part of life for many people. It helps all ages to communicate, to retrieve information, to gain employment, to share common interests but none of these devices or means have changed the fundamental reason, the core psychological motives underlying our relationship with others. We relate to people in order to get along or to get ahead and both motives are present in social networking contacts.

Another enormous upsurge springing from the digital self is the ease with which people manage to publish their own photograph.

‘The era of cheap, lightweight digital cameras has meant that people who did not consider themselves photography buffs are now filling ever-larger hard drives with thousands of images from their lives’ (Williams, 2006, New York Times, Here I am taking my own pictures)

With the introduction of the Kodak Brownie, virtually no citizen photographer was known to take a self portrait. There appeared to be some form of moral reserve. Nowadays the selfie stick has been manufactured in millions and at tourist sites all around the world it is often impossible to view the sites because of a constant barrage of selfie sticks in the way. recent visit to the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Selfies used to be for younger people but in a matter of a couple of years this has changed and even retired couples are taking to the scene.

Is this sudden increase in the interest in self portraiture explained by narcissism?  One explanation of this change in attitude is put forward by Dr Arnett , a Fulbright scholar at the University of Copenhagen:

‘This is the idea that adolescents think people are more interested in them than they actually are, that people are always looking at them and taking note of what they are doing’

He felt this was due to the fact that adolescents have been treated differently from birth (with more respect) and generally have a greater self worth. This self worth is starting to spread into other, older people, a sort of contagion.

Jim Taylor, a trend consultant with the Harrison Group in Waterbury, Connecticut was struck by the element of self marketing in adolescents.

‘When I was a kid I didn’t want my picture taken’

‘But these kids are fabulous self marketers’

They can use this to confirm their identity and convince themselves of their status in society. They are out partying, taking photographs, eating well, doing exciting things.

The quality of modern day camera equipment and processing has also have contributed to the rise of the selfie. Not only are the photographs more immediate, they are easy to manipulate. They can be shown close to perfection (airbrushed) or distorted in some other way.

By using photographs and associating them with other information it is possible to pull information together quickly as described by Fred Ritchin in his essay ‘Toward a Hyperphotography’ (Ritchin, 2009, After Photography).

A picture is the central nucleus of an information stream which can describe as much information about a subject as required. To the picture can be attached further pictures which fully describe (or even contradict) the item. Other written information, a video or cross references to web addresses can also be attached to expand the story. All this can be achieved digitally using metadata. The digital self is now often thinking in hyperphotographic terms in order to pull together the truth of a story and to use this truth to positive effect. The negative effect could also be extracted if required. Photographs and text are so widely published that there is never a shortage of material which can be easily found.

The course material for part 4 of Digital Image and Culture (Digital Identities) refers to social gaming and avatars under the heading of ‘The Digital Self’:

With the advent of social gaming and the creation of personal avatars, people participating in social media like to develop an image of themselves which is the image of how they wish to be presented rather than who they are. It may be a dog or a cat, it may be a thing of beauty or an aggressive warrior. These images have become more and more sophisticated as time goes by. One of the stimulants of this idea was the online game ‘second life’ introduced in 2003. Artists, musicians and gamers are examples of people who have developed complex online avatars. Art has been sold, complex online projects have been developed and interactive games are abundant. For many people now this has become a very large part of their digital self and has also strayed into their real lives.

Old family photos are being digitised and published on social media alongside more recent photographs for comedy, to show physical likenesses, to share historic information. This is adding to the power of communication and is particularly relevant when communicating with past school friends, college mates or work colleagues. The power of the photograph transmitted in this way is in the speed with which it can travel around the world and the number of people it can reach. One’s digital self can share a part of many of these images.

Each individual has the ability to become a citizen journalist, recording current situations by smartphone (either still or video) and to provide this information to the press or to the police or legal system to assist with publicising an incident. Well known examples of this are:

Alexander Chadwick’s screen grab of the London tube passengers walking through the underground tunnel on 7/7.

R Umar Abbasi’s photograph of a Chinese man about to be killed by an oncoming train on the New York subway.

This removes the filter of a political press and can empower individuals giving them the ability to influence political strategies. The digital self is a powerful individual.

So where does all this information go? Frank Gillett writes in the Guardian about the battle to serve your digital self. Cloud technologies account for between 60 and 70% of all stored digital data (personal or work stuff). This includes files, contacts, photos, music and videos. All the companies involved, Apple’s icloud, Microsoft’s Sky Drive, Google Drive and Dropbox, to name a few, are currently jockeying for position in the market and many of us are currently being targeted to use their product, often without realising it. At the same time we can join up for Apple Music, Spotify or Napster. These are all becoming part of our digital footprint, our digital self.

Based on current work carried out at Forrester, Cambridge Massachussetts, The battle to serve our digital selves is expected to unfold over the next six years (no sooner). Competitors, big and little, are in the race but none has a head start. ‘Individuals will come to be defined as much by where they store their digital selves as what their nationality is. Will you become a Google, ABT, a Carrefour or a Baidu? Your choices will remake the power dynamic of the online world.’

In the last 20 years we have been introduced to the worldwide web, emailing, chat rooms, online shopping, smart phones, internet gambling, internet pornography, snapchat, facebook, twitter, instagram, linkedin, pinterest, youtube, texting, tweeting, sexting, imusic, online searching, online dating.

So, what is the motivation behind mass digital social networking at the personal level? What feeds our digital self? Is the current upsurge of social networking likely to crack soon or will it increase at the same (or a faster) pace?

Not surprisingly, we are all struggling with our own self identity. Now is the time to hone our digital self into a self that is closer to our true self in order to attain sanity with integrity.’Like it or not, we all have a digital self, a mask that we put on to engage the technological world’ (Hicks, Aug 23 2010, Psychology Today)

Although a lot of the photography we use today appears to be becoming the norm, we cannot guarantee that it is fixed. The ability to manipulate images is continuing to develop and the miniaturisation of sophisticated digital techniques still has a long way to go. We have progressed from the Canon 5D to the Fuji XPRO to the iPhone 7. What is next for the citizen photographer and his user generated content?

Some see working within the digital self as an opportunity to develop their photographic creativity and certainly there are many creative photographs, self portraits or other, moving around the world. Fred Ritchin, in his book “After Photography” goes one step further:

“In a funny way I don’t see this as photography any more. It’s communication. It’s all an extension of cell phones, texting and emailing. The photograph becomes a part of the total information flow.”


Reference List

Zhao. S. (2005) Symbolic Interaction Journal: The Digital Self: Through the Looking Glass of Telecopresent Others

OCA Course Material, Graphic Design GD2, p.103: How to B

Chamorro-Premuzic. (2015) The Guardian: How different are your online and offline personalities.  

Chamorro-Premuzic. ((2017) Wonderlancer: The Digital Self (an exclusive interview with renowned psychologist Dr. Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic

Williams. A. (2006), New York Times: Here I am taking my own pictures

Ritchin.F. (2009) After Photography: Towards a Hyperphotography. WW Norton

Gillett. F. (2013) The Guardian: Personal cloud services and the battle to serve your digital self

Hicks. T. (2010) Psychology Today: Understanding and creating your digital self

Williams. Z. (2016) The Guardian: Me! Me! Me! Are we living through a narcissism epidemic?

Miles. L. (2017) IET Engineering Communities: Getting your Digital Self in Order