Beyond the Selfie: self, time, and visibility in young people’s engagement with social media
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Over the last ten years, the use of smartphones and social media has become a highly significant aspect of communication. The convergence of interconnected communication systems, handheld screens, social media platforms, and images has prompted scholarship around the digitally-mediated nature of self-presentation, performance, and everyday interaction. Young people, in particular, are thought to live increasingly ‘mediated lives’ where visual social media now provide the context for the most basic forms of self-understanding and sociality. In this context, this dissertation examines how young people’s routine use of visual social media is shaping their sense of self and their perceptions and experiences of digitally-mediated visibility. The ways in which high-school and university students (aged 14-22) access Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat through smartphones as part of daily activities form the key context for examination. The dissertation provides insight on the following: 1) How and in what ways the production, curation, and circulation of images shape how young people manage and negotiate their self-identities; 2) How and in what ways the maintenance of a visually ‘mediated presence’ in social media shapes young people’s construction and presentation of self; 3) The visibilities that digital devices and social media allow, encourage, or constrain and how young people understand and negotiate these. The empirical aspects of the research draw upon in-depth interviews (n=35) and social media platform analyses with the same participants, focusing on emerging ‘practices of looking’ as well as the content of images. Findings provide insight into how routine practices of looking that are facilitated by smartphones and social media are adding a significant new component to how young people experience everyday life, particularly in terms of precise social expectations and conventions around managing the ‘new visibilities’ of mediated life.