Annual Conference of the International Association for Media and Communication Research (IAMCR)
Organização: International Association of Media and Communication Research (IAMCR)
Local: Hyderabad (India)
Data: 15 a 19 de julho de 2014
Representation and experience: Susan Sontag, photography, and social networks
CASTRO, J. C. L.
Resumo: In her writings on photography, Susan Sontag highlights its impact as it pertains to the relationship between representation and experience. This paper suggests that her reasoning may inspire an analysis of the more contemporary phenomenon of social networks, not only due to their extensive use of photography but also because their general functioning features a similar relationship.
Sontag shows that photography makes the distinction between images and things less and less meaningful. Increasingly, she claims, experiencing something implies photographing it. When it comes to social networks, one can argue that this tendency goes even further: having an experience implies photographing it and then posting both pictures and comments on a social network. Thus, representation captures experience, but tends to become more important than the experience itself and often even to replace it.
The parallel between photography, the way it is characterized by Sontag, and social networks can be still further extended. Photography is an instrument for appropriating the world by means of its reproduction. Social networks perform the same task, using devices that enable people, things, events, places, and information to be inventoried. Both photography and social networks compensate for the lack of social bonds and for limitations of the experience: instead of longing for another world, one longs to replicate the existing world. They also provide evidence of the things users do and the fun they have, in addition to testifying to their connectedness, thus contributing to their users’ narcissistic self-promotion.
More generally, Sontag contends that in capitalist societies photography serves simultaneously as a source of entertainment for the masses and as a tool of control for the rulers. This dual dimension is equally present in social networks, which combine spectacle and surveillance.
Taking Sontag’s reflections as a reference, the outcomes of the generalization of photography and social networks also seem akin. If everything is an interesting subject for representation, the result is a leveling of the dictinctions between the important and the trivial and an excess of representations. Moreover, the dynamic time course is sacrificed for the sake of isolated instants. And, by virtue of breaking continuity and reducing everything to snapshots, these forms of representation offer a warped understanding of the world around us or of ourselves.
Palavras-chave: photography, social networks, representation, experience, Susan Sontag.