Thursday, September 11, 2014

Playing in the Panopticon

Playing in the panopticon addresses the subjects of surveillance and social media, and how these can affect children. Long before I started doing any scholarly research, these were issues I had been dealing with for some years in raising my children. The choice to focus on Facebook was drawn from very recent personal experience with my 22-year-old son who has consistently refused to ‘friend’ me on Facebook – until he went overseas.

Two of my children (aged 18 & 20) agreed to be interviewed to give their perspective on privacy on Facebook.  Fortunately for me, I was provided with soundtrack material by my son who agreed to let me use an audio file of him playing his guitar. Artwork is my own work. One of the biggest challenges was doing a piece to camera. I found it very difficult to speak naturally so kept this to a minimum. I should have also allowed more time for viewers to read text on screen.

Creating the video footage ironically raised surveillance issues about me as a lone, middle-aged woman filming in children’s playgrounds raised a few eyebrows. Holly Blackford’s article addresses just this situation as the only way she was able to conduct her study of mothers watching their small children at playgrounds was because she actually was one of them (Blackford 2004).  I was careful to film only unoccupied public playgrounds. This reinforced my argument that children today are not playing so much in the outdoors but online.

One of the playgrounds I filmed had a maze with 1.2m walls which allowed children some degree of privacy, and hedged spaces from which little children could peep out. This aligned with playgrounds in fast food outlets where children are relatively hidden from parental eyes (Blackford 2004). The concept of the panopticon in relation to playground behaviour (of adults and children) is fascinating and, as my interviews my two children in the video show, is directly relatable to young people’s online experiences.

Baruh & Soysal provided background discussion of social network sites and the levels of disclosure and self expression they permit, along with a look at privacy concerns. 

Marx & Steeves (2010) provided insight into the privacy implications of online engagement for children and the way information and communication technologies are now such a part of everyday life that humans are affected from cradle (even before birth: think of fuzzy ultrasound images) to the grave and beyond, as we grapple with the ramifications of digital legacy.

From RFID* enabled baby's pyjamas, to baby monitors, to CCTVs in childcare centres and schools, to nanny cams, biometric ID and fingerprinting for library borrowing, GPS locators, to online monitoring software, to testing your teenager’s underwear for the presence of semen, Marx & Steeves note that ‘increasingly restrictive controls are part of a broader societal trend towards a “politics of fear”’ (2010, p214).

More than one scholarly source focused on the concepts of risk and trust (in relation to children’s online experience) and suggested that constant surveillance is denying children opportunities to learn about these fundamental aspects of human interaction (Rooney 2010, Verberne 2014, Media Smarts, Johnson 2012). The development of children’s autonomy is an important part of parenting and the research suggests that if the balance of trust and risk that parents and children are constantly negotiating is out of kilter then children’s ability to develop autonomy is hindered (Rooney 2010, p350-351).

Foucault’s concept of panopticonic surveillance, as it applies to parenting, was discussed by Blackford (2004) and Henderson, Harman and Houser (2010) mostly with the focus on how fear governs modern parenting practices (Henderson, Harman and Houser 2010, p233).

Consistent with my small survey, the Kanter, Afifi and Robbins 2012 article states that children ‘friending’ a parent on Facebook ‘did NOT result in perceptions of greater privacy invasions’, conversely it was ‘associated with decreased conflict in the parent-child relationship’ and my personal experience endorses this.

*Radio Frequency Identification

Baruh, L and Soysal, L 2010, ‘Public intimacy and the new face (book) of surveillance: the role of social media in shaping contemporary dataveillance’, in Dumova, T and Fiordo, R (eds.), Handbook of Research on Social Interaction Technologies and Collaboration Software: Concepts and Trends, Information Science Reference, Hershey, pp. 392-403

Blackford, H 2004, ‘Playground Panopticism: Ring-Around-the-Children, Pocketful of Women’, Childhood, 2004 Vol. 11, pp 227-249 retrieved 29 August 2014

Fowler, G A 2013, ‘Life and Death online: who controls a digital legacy?’, The Wall Street Journal, Eastern Edition, 5 January 2013, A1, Dow Jones & Company, Inc. retrieved 11 September 2014

Henderson, A, Harman, S & Houser J 2010, ‘A New State of Surveillance? Applying Michel Foucault to Modern Motherhood’, Surveillance & Society, Vol. 7, No 3/4, pp231-247 retrieved 29 August 2014

Johnson, M 2012, ‘Resilient resourceful and under surveillance,’ Our Schools / Our Selves, Fall 2012, Vol. 22 Issue 1, p151-153 retrieved 29 August 2014

Kanter, M, Afifi, T and Robbins S 2012, ‘The Impact of Parents "Friending" Their Young Adult Child on Facebook on Perceptions of Parental Privacy Invasions’, Journal of Communication, Vol. 62 Issue 5, October 2012, pp.900-917 retrieved 4 September 2014

Marx, G and Steeves, V 2010, ‘From the Beginning: Children as Subjects and Agents of Surveillance,’ Surveillance & Society, July 2010, Issue 3/4, pp.192-39 retrieved 30 August 2014

Media Smarts (n.d.), ‘Types of Surveillance’,, retrieved 29 August 2014

Rooney, T 2010, ‘Trusting children: How do surveillance technologies alter a child's experience of trust, risk and responsibility?’, Surveillance & Society, July 2010, Vol 7, Issue 3/4, p344-355. retrieved 30 August 2014

Verberne, M 2014, ‘The Sad State of Play in Australian Schools’, The Age newspaper, 1 September 2014

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Online identity and creativity

I used to think I was a ‘lite’ social media user.  Compared to my friends though, I am quite the accomplished doyenne. I have three Wordpress blogs, this Blogger, as well as, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Tumblr, Delicious and Behance accounts (I think that’s all…).

Online me is an extension of the real world me.  But it’s all me.  Or aspects of me. A mediated me.  But that’s not a new thing. From cave paintings, to smoke signals, to telephone calls, humans have been engaging in mediated communication for a long time.  Computer-mediated communication (CMC) is an extension of human interaction, and the same rules apply.

By Roberto D'Angelo (roberdan) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons from Wikimedia Commons

Like any human, I have different facets to my personality and my engagement with the various social media platforms has sprung from different needs at different times.  I edit my profiles and (restricted and publicly available) content to manipulate my identity for different purposes, but essentially my engagement is authentic: I use my real name and photos of myself.  I do not use a pseudonym, unlike a friend of mine who has two Facebook profiles neither of which are in her real name and one even uses another gender.

My identity is discursively formed; it is not fixed and unchangeable but ‘made meaningful’ through interaction and context (Page 2013:17).  Judith Butler’s theory of performativity is relevant to online identity construction as it is an ‘ongoing process of becoming’ rather than a fixed state of being (cited in Cover 2014: 56).

Image: M. Stuart 2014

Just as in real life, we construct our online identity by our actions and by our interactions with others.  Our identity (both online and real-world) comprises the purposeful presentation that we give, but also unintended impressions that we may give off (Goffman cited in Bullingham & Vasconcelos 2013:101).  By posting intensely art-focused content, viewers of this blog might think I am actually more knowledgeable than I really am (or is my knowledge as valid as anyone else’s?).

I found Smith and Watson’s toolbox of concepts helpful in understanding online self-presentation, and I wholeheartedly agree that ‘both offline and online, the autobiographical subject can be an ensemble or assemblage of subject positions through which self-understanding and self-positioning are negotiated’ (2014:71).  Who I am is not solely who I think I am, but also how others perceive me.

Image: M. Stuart 1976
Take for instance, the concept of the audience. I am pretty circumspect about what personal details and photos I post to social media – but then I’ve got a bit more life experience under my belt than the average third year uni student. 

Erving Goffman’s use of dramaturgical metaphors in conceptualizing identity construction – front stage and back stage behaviours – is applicable to the construction of online identity and something I (unconsciously) bear in mind in online interactions (cited in Bullingham & Vasconcelos 2013:101).  

However, this is not always the case for young social media participants who are often unaware of the performative nature of their online participation.  The ‘collision of professional and personal worlds’ can be traumatic for those who have uploaded images or words that may affect their colleagues’ respect for them (Ollier-Malaterre, Rothbard, and Berg, 2013:645).  This is most likely to be a problem for adolescents due to the permanence of online content clashing with their immature ‘cognitive-control’ systems. While it might temporarily boost their image amongst peers to post images of themselves drunk or naked, the clash of personal and professional worlds arises occurs when a future employer comes across these images (Gabriel 2014:105).

My participation on social media platforms has been tailored for different audiences, e.g. Facebook started as a place to connect and reconnect with friends and family, people I actually know. Now I communicate with distant strangers whom I have never met, but with whom I have warm and funny conversations.  Facebook is where I might post something indicating my political leanings, or activism but I would never post such things on my Tumblr or LinkedIn, which I reserve for my professional profile.  My privacy settings on Facebook are mostly for Friends.

In trying to craft a professional persona on my LinkedIn and Tumblr accounts, I am attempting to transition to a new ‘me’, a potential creative employee.  I’m trying to rebrand myself, what Smith & Watson called ‘the self regarded as a commodity’ (2014:79).  I’m also engaging in creating a ‘blended identity’ where my real world self informs my online persona, which then re-informs my real world self because of interactions that occur online (Bullingham & Vasconcelos 2013:102).  My online engagement with artists in far distant places has had an impact on my day-to-day art practice.
Image: M. Stuart 2013

A recent site of identity construction with which I am coming to grips is Twitter.  Not being much of a tweeter up till recently, I am now following and being followed by my university lecturers, fellow students as well as people I’ve never heard of on the other side of the planet – people I’ve never met in real life. So now I am faced again with a need for ‘ongoing reflexive performance and articulation of selfhood’ as I create my identity on this platform (Cover 2014:55).

But let’s take a wider look at online creativity and identity. Jaron Lanier ‘argues that interesting works of creativity aren’t normally produced by lots of people throwing stuff into a big pot and giving it a stir’ (cited in Gauntlett 2013:198).  I’m not so sure.  Take the Big History point of view.  How does a nation such as, for example, France become distinctly French?  A process involving lots of people and time, potentially a ‘mush-making process’, yet a cohesive, identifiable ‘self’ exists.

I’m also not sure I share the strength of Jaron Lanier’s concerns about ‘digital reduction’ and the loss of our humanity as we endeavor to ‘fit in with the requirements of a machine (or database, or a piece of software)’, (cited in Gauntlett 2013:196).  Lanier’s unease about the uniformity and predictability of, for instance, Facebook profiles, reminds me of a teenager’s unwillingness to dress in a more conformist way.

But we all live with rules and structure anyway, and we strive in varying degrees to express our individuality within these confines, but online ‘people will construct expressive resources out of whatever facilities are available’ (Miller 1995).  It is important to be mindful of how we conduct ourselves both in the virtual world and the real world to get the measure of a person.

Bullingham, L and Vasconcelos, A 2013, 'The Presentation of the self in the online world: Goffman and the study of online identities', in Journal of Information Science, Vol. 39, No. 1, retrieved 21 July 2014,

Cover, R 2014, 'Becoming and Belonging: Performativity, Subjectivity, and the Cultural Purposes of Social Networking', in Poletti, A and Rak, J eds., Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography: Identity Tehnologies: Constructing the Self Online, University of Wisconsin Press, e-book, retrieved 21 July 2014, ProQuest ebrary <>.

Gabriel, F 2014, 'Sexting, Selfies and Self-Harm: young people, social media and the performance of self-development',  Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture & Policy, No. 151, Jun 2014: 104-112, retrieved 21 July 2014 <;dn=353961738626632;res=IELLCC>

Gauntlett, D 2013, Making is Connecting, Wiley, Hoboken US, e-book, retrieved 21 July 2014, <>

Miller, Hugh 1995, 'The presentation of self in electronic life: Goffman on the Internet', Proceedings of the embodied knowledge and virtual space conference, Goldsmiths’ College, University of London UK, retrieved 4 August 2014  <>.

Ollier-Malaterre, A, Rothbard, N P, Berg, J M, 2013, 'When worlds collide in cyberspace: how boundary work in online social networks impacts professional relationships,' Academy of Management Review, October 2013, Vol. 38 Issue 4, p645-669, retrieved 22 July 2014, <>.

Page, Ruth E, 2013, Stories and Social Media: Identities and Interaction, Taylor and Francis, New York, 01 March 2013,
retrieved 22 July 2014 <>. 

Smith, S and Watson J 2014, 'Virtually Me: A Toolbox about Online Self-Presentation', in Poletti, A and Rak, J eds., Wisconsin Studies in Autobiography: Identity Tehnologies: Constructing the Self Online, University of Wisconsin Press, e-book, retrieved 21 July 2014, ProQuest ebrary <>.