I think Nina Arsenault is an incredible artist. [Heads up, her website has some NSFW content.] She explores and deconstructs the concept of “personhood” with such ferocity, it’s completely breathtaking.
I recently read an interview with Nina Arsenault about her ties with serial killer Luka Magnotta. (Thanks Jeff Perera at Higher Unlearning for sharing the link.) The conversation turned to a general discussion about the “virtual self” and narcissism as the new norm:
Back in the 80s it was difficult for people to understand the concept of virtual reality. The term was considered an oxymoron. Now, the minds of an entire generation are developing with virtual selves–representations of themselves which can have exaggerated, false, or accurate relationships to their lived existences.
What my generation calls narcissism–understanding oneself and others as a series of images–is being bred into human beings globally. Post-millennial children do not really know what life is like without a virtual self. I don’t think we can anticipate where this evolution/mutation will take us as a world culture.
What new technologies will emerge to fuse with this mentality? How will it further commoditize us as human beings? How will it continue to construct our understanding of reality as a series of images we are buying, selling, vivifying, living up to or not living up to?
Her comments really struck me.
Does social networking encourage narcissism? Is it harmful for kids to grow up exploring, forming and expressing their identities on an image-conscious, sound-byte loving internet?
A blog article called Transparency is more expedient than lying does a good job of addressing these questions, I think.
As the article explains, our identities are much more fluid than they used to be. Thanks in part to these “virtual selves” that Arsenault talks about, our identities are now largely a matter of our own opinion.
So how do you know who is authentically who they say they are?
Well, thanks to social networks and everyone’s ubiquitous online presence, the evidence is out there for everyone to see.
Our lives are becoming transparent. This makes it very difficult to create a fake personal identity that’s convincing. Not impossible, but difficult.
As Nina Arsenault herself points out through her work, identity is already extremely fluid and the way we express who we are is extremely complicated.
Think about it this way. Which do you think is more disturbing?:
- I lie about my age on Facebook so that I appear to be 10 years younger than I really am.
- I use cosmetics or surgery to alter my physical body so that I appear to be 10 years younger than I really am.
We live in a society where transforming our physical selves is commonplace and considered desirable. So is it really shocking that this sort of behaviour would translate to how we present our virtual selves?
Aren’t we already pretty narcissistic and image-obsessed?
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