I read an interesting NY Times article today about the ubiquity of photo self-portraits, especially among adolescents, on the internet. The article talks about how this functions developmentally for teenagers. And, indeed, most teenagers spend time posing in front of a mirror, trying on outfits, and writing soul-searching diary entries. I did. Ok, I still do. But the point here is that this is not a new development in adolescence. What has changed, though, is that this kind of behavior is taking place in a more public forum.
So, I guess, what is the difference between posing in front of the mirror for hours and snapping countless photos? Between volumes of paper journals, or kilobytes of online diaries? What changes when this kind of identity experimentation is moved from the private sphere to the public? In some ways, it seems that Harriet the Spy syndrome becomes almost expected. Instead of feeling betrayed because your peers have violated a diary, kids set up diaries in ways that invite readers. They beg for comments, troll for an audience. My adolescent diary has moments of acknowledging some future me or biographer that might read, but many teen blogs seem to cry out for acknowledgement on a regular basis, often by begging for comments or phone calls. It is my initial (perhaps old and grumpy) impulse to wonder if so much public performance somehow makes this search for identity less authentic, since the audience is potentially broader than oneself and a few friends or siblings. Suddenly girls are not posing in too much makeup in front of my own mirror asking their best friend if it looks good, but posting the photo on myspace (or worse, hotornot) to find out if people think they are beautiful.
Of course, this invites predators etc etc, but the sheer volume of it means that not everyone is going to get their own voyeur. But I think also teens want this kind of stuff out in public, because suddenly it’s not just your mom and your teacher telling you you’re normal, there’s a whole internet full of other self-conscious teenagers trying to figure out who they are by posting awkward photos and angsty blog entries.