The work attempts to see what might happen when these updates are taken out of the confines of Facebook, and what reactions they might spark in a new environment. Coming from Dastidar's impulse to capture this ephemera, the idea started as the possible publication of a diary, evolving into a visually richer experience with Busher's creative input. As Dastidar says, "... I think it's reasonable to say that we initially conceived of it as an exhibition of words, taking its inspiration from something digital. It's only as we've seen the reaction that we might have accidentally stumbled upon something deeper, and more resonant than that."
Dastidar's process involved the capture of his first update of the day in a notebook. Rather than automating it with the downloading of his entire dataset and figuring out the "best" updates for an exhibition, Dastidar wanted to ensure that he had a robust and consistent process. It was more about exploring supposedly disposable digital content within the analogue realm, than focus on a retrospective of the content itself. Dastidar had also decided not to record anything that published directly to his Facebook wall, such as Nike+ updates, or any shared links. No updates were removed in the preparation process, so it's as warts-and-all as one might expect: Dastidar doesn't appear worried about this, as he sees Facebook as a quasi-public forum to which care has to be applied.
The postcards are not arranged as a linear narrative, so although one might expect some kind of life story – for at least some of the small pieces to be loosely joined – Dastidar is hesitant. "It was the right thing to do from an exhibition point of view – but it sure scrambled my sense of 'me' for a few hours. I saw important events, great memories, travels, high times and low times all swim back towards me – but they felt mostly like discrete events, and not necessarily a linear flow."
Reading the status updates back evoke specific memories for Dastidar. Some were posted overseas, some at work, but all in specific contexts and situations. However, the feeling is different to looking at an old photo. He can't always place what was happening when writing the update, and that "disembodiedness" lessens the impact of the memory – it makes it stay hazier, and a bit harder to pin down. Some don't trigger anything at all. They all hand themselves over to the viewer to decide, to invent their own contexts to updates which were posted within a given situation that the viewer has no knowledge of.
Back and forth
Status updates are designed to capture a specific situation in time. As social media services mature, they are looking at the past as a way to build value. Facebook's new timeline feature builds visibility of the past in the form of our digital detritus, microscopic in form it may be. Dastidar sees this and other developments as useful, but not immensely valuable. "A timeline will definitely inject a sense of past into the medium, but I'm not sure that it will be enough to counter the 'fast food' nature that's inherently there. You're as likely to snack on your own past as much as other people's present. It would be hard to get the same sort of dopamine kick if it was set up to celebrate your past more than what is incoming."
At least the ability to share at mass scale is there for everyone. This ease of use has utility value, but does it have emotional value? Are we losing touch with the power of what we publish? Dastidar believes that it's a "yes and no" issue.
On the "No" side, Dastidar believes that people can and do construct bigger narratives out of what they publish, so there is an emotional resonance in 24,000 photos as well as 24. Conversely, the sheer volume of what can be published means that some content will mean more than others. "If you're Clay Shirky you don't really mind this, and think that's a reasonable price to pay for freedom of expression." Dastidar suspects that we might end up facing a "hyperinflation of content": there is so much being published that it becomes almost impossible to apply strong filtering. The result is that discourse becomes amplified in either its internalisation or its externalisation. "You probably end up over-privileging the personal, and are less interested in what connects you to the wider world – or, that connection becomes much more shallow, with all that means for engagement with the public sphere."
Dastidar's personal thoughts and feelings were exhibited for all to see, in an intimate, multi-coloured form. This blind sharing opens new dialogues between the raw and personal, and the audience of these published notes. On one hand it may seem narcissistic, but on the other it is a step that few are prepared to consciously take, whether they fully understand Facebook's privacy settings or not.
We're still in control of our own lifestream... for now.
Further information on Self Portrait Postcards is available on the project's website.