Jill Walker Rettberg. 2014 “Seeing ourselves through Technology” Palgrave Pivot.
There is a lot of public and academic discussion about “Selfies” at the moment. When we uncritically follow some of this debate we could believe it is an entirely new phenomenon created by mobile phones equipped with cameras, and maybe selfie-sticks. Jill Walker Rettberg has written an insightful analysis of the ‘selfie-phenomenon’ that situates the photographic selfies we are all familiar with, within the wider social and historic context of past and present technologies and techniques used to create representations of the self, including self-portraits, auto-biographies, and more recently quantified modes of self-logs and activity trackers.
Having situated “Selfies” Walker Rettberg moves on to discuss how “filters” are being used and create distinct version of self-representations. These filters can be technological, such as Instagram filters, or cultural. Whilst the former can be deployed to create images of our selves that show us how we want to be seen by others, the latter are those filters we deploy in response to the socio-cultural environment we inhabit; they guide for example the section of images that we create, collect and display.
A “Selfie” rarely occurs in isolation but often are produced in a series. By examining series of selfies, such as changes of profile pictures over time Walker Rettberg can show how the way in which people present themselves over time changes. As in previous chapters Walker Rettberg manages to link her analysis with knowledge about art history and art theory.
The emergence of Selfies is closely linked to the growing trend of tracking applications and logs. Walker Rettberg illuminates this linkage between these two phenomena and explicates the growing automation of the tracking and its relationship to the earlier discussion about filters. One strength of this chapter is the elaboration of this relationship between, for example the quantified self, the use of automation in the data collection and analysis and the filtering of information in the process. Walker Rettberg further elaborates on the quantified self movement in a separate chapter.
All the developments Walker Rettberg examines and discusses in her book throw in the open issues of surveillance and privacy that every now and again create a media hysteria without being properly dealt with. In her final chapter Walker Rettberg explicates some of the privacy issues related to selfies and possible consequences of the self-logging for people.
Overall, the book provides a very good analysis of the Selfie phenomenon and offers plenty of food for thought on possible further research on related phenomena, such as quantification of the self, automation etc.