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Image management – a corrosive virus?

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  • #252

    In 1961 – when television was still young, public relations had not become the profession of cynics and the world was immature in relation to photo opportunities and spin – Daniel Boorstin published his book ‘The Image.’ There was very little ‘image management’. Boorstin’s work still stands as a salutary lesson on how self-deception can be a deeply corrosive side effect of the ‘graphic revolution’. He coined the phrase ‘pseudo event’ – i.e. one staged solely for the purpose of being reported. The concept has gone viral. The virus has been resistant to treatment and the infection is deeply rooted in our society. It has undergone intergenerational transmission and has mutated its manifestation into the digital age.

    In mid November 2015 19-year old Instagram star Essena O’Neill revealed why she quit all her social media. The bronzed teen had over 574,000 Instagram followers, more than 250,000 subscribers on YouTube and around 60,000 dedicated Snapchat contacts when she announced that she was giving up her life as a ‘social media celebrity’. She hopes to initiate a movement where an individual’s worth is not determined by their physical attributes or social media influence, giving people the opportunity to be free, to grow, to learn and to explore while challenging their own beliefs. This ‘image management’ virus is corrosive of our true identity. It is a false metre stick with which to measure anyone at any age.

    Does anyone else feel that this virus is destroying the mental health and confidence of our young people, stealing a true fulfilment and celebration of talent from our young professionals and eroding character and leadership in the Board rooms?

    #257

    Dear Maureen

    I’d never heard of “19-year old Instagram star Essena O’Neill” – I guess that tells you that I’m not on Instagram and, more important, that I’m not 19 any longer 🙂

    Is “image management” really worse than it used to be (allowing for the amplifications possible because of modern technology)? Well, Boorstin does of course say so and, though he was writing before the Internet Age, I guess the acuity of his remarks is even more evident now.

    But isn’t it a very much bigger problem that, just as people earlier hid behind their cigarettes, people nowadays hide behind computer screens and smartphone screens (oh, and earplugs!). So you can’t catch anyone’s eye, or nod and say “Hi”?

    Just as people used to desist (thankfully, some still do!) from work once a week, I wonder whether all electornic transmission of messages should be shut down once a week.

    No business would suffer (if I need to buy a movie, I can buy it beforehand and see it on the day of electronic rest).

    And as for those who would complain that they couldn’t then skype with their grandchildren on that day each week, they can be told the good news that have a wonderful incentive to move physically closer to their grandchildren – as I am planning to do 🙂

    #258

    Dear Prahbu

    People in the caves, our ancestors were drawing hunting scenes and animals to communicate with each other, I do not think that they were questioning the need to communicate, as the information on the walls were very precious for them to survive
    The issue obviously is not the technology, but ourselves , we do not seem to have that capacity to resist to the flow of information which is acting like a drug . I don’t think that I could shut down my tablet for a few days, I need a motivation to do that,
    Socrates could say that one of the way would be to engage ourselves in “On line Socratic” dialogs and therefore spending less time time busying ourselves with non processed news and information.

    #269

    Thought provoking discussion. However I think that image management is the symptom not the cause of the virus. PR and image manages back much further than the 60’s – see https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bernays here for one the earliest proponents of image management (and frankly I find his views are much more insidious than much of what goes for PR today).

    For me, the issue is much more around what damage “hyper-communication” does to us. A parallel is 24h news channels – when I was growing up these channels did not exist and therefore a certain filtering took place on the daily (once or twice per day) news programs. Time in those programs was limited so only big enough stories made the cut. The opposite is now true – the program has 24h to fill, so the stories become less and less important- or the same important ones are repeated. But whatever happens, talking and discussing is taking place.

    This model has been applied to ourselves – thoughts are tweeted, photos Instagrammed, experiences Facebooked, all to be part of a conversation. (Possibly even to validate or prove our existence)

    It is refreshing to see the change of heart of Ms O’Neill, and I hope it has some wider impact, but all these channels need to be edited, and so image management implicitly takes place.

    I think part of the challenge is realising how much of younger generations’ experience takes place online.

    A different commentary on some of this can be found in “The Circle ” by Dave Eggers. It’s not well written but he insightfully takes the patterns of behaviour we see now to their logical conclusions.

    #271

    Giles, what then is the virus …. If the symptom is ‘image management’?

    #272

    Maureen, Good question!

    I think the virus is the need to feel that we matter. Obviously this is not so much a virus, perhaps rather a basic human need.

    When this need is unmet and when one’s surrounding context implies that you don’t matter unless you are doing all sorts of exciting things (or look perfect or…) all the time (the things that everyone who is important or interesting are doing) then the conclusion is that you don’t really matter.

    I think that young people today have a growing fear of missing out – that there is a life “out there” that they should be living, but they are missing out on – and a great deal of social media fuels this malaise or anxiety.

    This thinking is interestingly parallel to Descartes’ cogito ergo sum, (an essentially internal moment of proving my existence) now reinvented as an external proof – I am online so I exist… my latin runs out at this point!!!

    #297

    In 2012 Stephen Marche wrote in The Atlantic about the 24/7 curating of the exhibition of the self through Facebook and other social media. I still find this one of the most helpful terms when thinking about how new technologies impact our image management, to frame it in the terms of this discussion.

    The virus at the core might well be, as some here have suggested, more an aspect of the crooked timber of our humanity, rather than something technological. But literature on social network sites and forms of communication insist that such platforms are not neutral, with which I completely agree. In providing more tools for curating one’s image, Facebook and other services purportedly offer us more control over how our image is perceived. But being able to better curate our image still does not give us control over how others receive this image.

    So I think I agree with Giles; these are a reflection of our need to feel like we matter, like we are known, loved, and are not missing out. New forms of communication exacerbate some of the fears. And yes, I agree with you, Maureen, this is a real problem. A problem which leads to actions like that of Essena O’Neill. Although, in recognising the problem and engaging with it, we can hope for more fruitful forms of subverting this problem than cutting off all usage. Perhaps the notion of a Sabbath rest from these technologies is not a bad place to start.

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