"There is only one way of thinking that is capable of making progress, or of surviving in the long run, and that is the way of seeking good explanations through creativity and criticism." - David Deutsch
"We tell ourselves stories in order to live." - Joan Didion
I initially began this week considering the analysis I might run on Generation Selfie. How do we present ourselves online vs in our personal photographs? And more crucially, which is the truer reflection of our subconscious? Why are younger millenials seemingly so comfortable with taking and posting selfies to social media? Why is our embarrassment not greater? Or, perhaps I should ask, what is my own personal hangup with this act of self-expression? I think we should often talk more about vanity as it pertains to our digital lives.
I thought I might find some selfie-to-non-selfie ratio of pictures that influential online personas adopt in their own practice/branding, and then draw some conclusions about how young people subconsciously imitate and adopt these behaviors (theoretically not under the conscious guise of self-branding but within the premise of self-expression). This is how I was feeling, until I thought it might be more meaningful to turn the vanity mirror on myself, and that's when I remembered a daily self-portrait project I had made in 2011.
In many ways it resembled a Rest Of You project. Starting on January 1st, I took one self portrait every morning first thing when I woke up. Before I had my wits about me, before I’d had coffee, before consciousness. But I thought it might be interesting to see the results of this project later on, to see how my body changed, where I woke up each day, and perhaps to notice other things. Spoiler: they are often unflattering shots from the side of my bed. And as it happened, 2011 quickly began to reveal itself as an eventful and difficult year.
Gmail Archive analysis
In the Secret Life of Pronouns, James Pennebakker talks about how victims of trauma are much better off waiting to put their feelings down on paper until after some time has passed. He promotes the concept talking about your pain, but not committing it to writing until the complexity of shock has worn off. This really resonated with my experience.
Running word counts on my sent emails began to reveal part of the story of the year. For example, I used the word Mom 60 times in emails (not including times I emailed with my Mom directly of course), and I used the word Dad 16 times. This broad observation begins to tell the story, as I was primarily concerned with my Mom's well-being and moved home to keep her company halfway through the year.
Sorting thru old email does of course help me fill in the basic timeline of events. I was able to then look at the day before and the day after events took place.
Microsoft Emotion API analysis
Analyzing the photos in the Microsoft Emotion API, almost every photo in the series registers as somewhere between 95-99% emotionally “Neutral.” Was I hiding pain? Was I staying zen in the midst a tumultuous year? Or was I just waking up? It’s not remarkable that the API can’t sense the subtle shifts in my emotional life that year, and also speaks to the importance of context in images. Even if I had to get more qualitative and low-tech, how could I use these photos to still gain a sense of my subconscious experience of this time period?
Here is the morning before I found out about my Dad leaving my Mom, and then the morning after.
Here is the morning of the day in which that I learn that my brother might be a with cancer, and the following morning. Here, though I'm likely just yawning, the Emotion API actually registered a new emotion - 77% likelihood of Surprise.
And here is the morning before my girlfriend left, and the morning after.
I began to think more about my private vs public imagery, and dug up my Instagrams from this time period. Here's a snapshot of what I posted during the month of may, when I first left LA and moved back home to El Granada.
Qualitative Visual analysis
Lo-tech observations of the series tell perhaps the most compelling story. In addition to seeing where and how I woke up, the subtle differences in expression and body language, I also can see that I started to put on weight throughout the year. In the light of retrospection, it was interesting to see this byproduct of sadness, the physical manifestation of my family and personal life's heaviness.
Returning to my initial idea - to examine how we understand our own stories and how we present them to others I compared the instagrams I posted from the time that I moved home to the self-portraits. In this snapshot of a week in May, I see that I'm portraying, and perhaps projecting for myself a happier reality to strive for: the outdoors, my dog Apollo, and our peaceful walks in the woods and beach near my home.
In my memory I finished the project and made all 365 pictures, but now searching out these files from an old external hard drives I find 288 images. The trail of images evaporates somewhere in the middle of September.