A couple of my mates use the social networking site Facebook to keep in touch. Like MySpace and others, you can create your own profile page, post messages and photos, and link your profile to other ‘friends’ (real, virtual, or merely imagined) on the network.
I think half the fun of these sites, is spending a little while following the forking paths of links, from a friend, to a friend’s friend, to a friend of a friend of a friend. Suddenly you find yourself browsing a page or two of photos, of a fancy dress party you did not attend, populated by people you don’t know. There’s a similarity to all these pictures – guys and girls lean in, drink in hand, for the pose. The snap shot is taken in haste: It is poorly composed; the automatic flash invariably over-lights the moment; and the subjects strike a ‘wacky’ pose, with tongues out and peace V-signs galore. I’ve taken dozens of pictures like this myself over the years. Its fun to wait a few extra seconds, to see how long the poseurs can maintain their, erm, posture.
One noteworthy aspect of these Facebook profiles is the choice the users make for their profile picture. Bizarrely, hundreds of people choose just such a party shot as their ‘face’, invariably one which includes other people as well. How are visitors supposed to know which face belongs to the profile they are reading, and which is that of some random punter who happened to fit their gurn into the shot as well?
I know there is a wealth of psychological extrapolations to be made from examining different people’s choice of avatar or profile picture. It is a chance to portray an aspect of yourself to the world. I notice a good proportion of bloggers keep their mug-shot off their site. Others, in common with those Facebook users, choose an impromptu snap, which suggests they wish to convey a modest yet carefree attitude – any old picture will do. But what does it say about a person when they add other people to their profile photo? Are they lacking a coherent identity of their own? Or merely showing us that they are so goddamned popular, that they cannot even find a picture of themselves that does not include some other fawning reveller.
I suppose the choice to portray yourself in a certain way is influenced by the tone of the site itself. In contrast to the naïf choices made by many Facebook users, the images displayed on the American site Spring Street Personals (which powers The Onion Personals) are all carefully chosen. Each is carefully cropped and displays a good looking young person who effortlessly exudes that counter-culture cool, which is central to the website’s brand. When similar images appear on Facebook, however, they seem arrogant and misplaced. And as with online virtual spaces, so it is in the real world. Design (whether graphic, interior, or fashion) frames the way we see ourselves, and how we interact with others.