Looking For You: An Analysis Of Video Blogs

This is an article published in 2010:

* As the blogosphere expanded, some — often bloggers themselves — suggested that blogs would replace elements of mainstream media (Levy, 2002). This is an overstatement when one bears in mind communications history — no new communications medium has ever eliminated older media completely (Couch, 1996; Levy, 2002; Shafer, 2005). Computers and the Internet have not eradicated television; television has not made radio extinct; and, radio did not vanquish newspapers. Blogging is not a “threat” and will not destroy traditional or mainstream media, but it may cause them to evolve…

* Researchers frequently question the import of introspective expression on blogs, vlogs, and general Internet forums, finding that “much of what is said is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” [3] Yet through this fragmented and disorganized content, we see that when people are given the chance to create public content “they choose…to talk about what the serious business of the human experience — life, loss, belonging, hope for the future, friendship, and love — means to them.”

* [Erving] Goffman’s (1959) ideas are rooted in theatrical metaphor, suggesting that in social interaction people are, in a sense, on stage. If there is a stage for performance, then there must also be a “backstage” where individuals cease performing. Goffman (1959) suggests that this “backstage” is where one’s true self is revealed because there is no audience. This study treats vlogs as stages where multimedia performances takes place. We will examine content of vlogs to understand what the connections between vlog stages to “backstages”. In this study, a vlog is understood as a deliberately constructed presentation of self, a mirror of the author or creator of the vlog.

* In social situations, we respond to specific situations and colleagues, adjusting our behavior (Goffman, 1959). However, in vlogging and blogging, it is difficult for vloggers to predict every individual reaction to their site — vloggers can only make educated guesses. Vloggers must present themselves in a way that they hope will generate a desired impression.

When presenting ourselves via a digital environment, individuals are the “producer[s], director[s], and star[s]” of the show [5]. Through online dramas, people find new ways to think about their identities. Turkle (1995) suggests that Web sites are places to negotiate and shape identities. She found that young people use computers as a “constructive as well as projective medium.” [6] All media are extensions of ourselves to some degree (McLuhan, 1994), so when an individual constructs a Web site, blog, or vlog, she considers which aspects of herself and identity will be shared or invented. Identity indeed is not singular; people can explore multiple angles of their identities in vlogs, on Facebook, as well as in face–to–face communication.

Other studies have examined self–presentation and identity in every day or electronic communication contexts. Jones (1990) noted that there are several self–presentation strategies individuals use when trying to create a desired impression, including ingratiation, competence, intimidation, exemplification and supplication. Ingratiation is used when the desired goal is to be liked. Competence, or self–promotion, is used when an individual wants to be perceived as talented or capable. Intimidation is used when a person desires power or control of a situation. Exemplification is used when an individual wishes to be seen as morally superior or virtuous. Supplication is used when someone wants to be nurtured or helped, due to self–perceived weaknesses. Ingratiation is not only the most commonly used strategy, it also has a “halo effect” when used in conjunction with other strategies [7].

Dominick (1999) applied these self–presentation strategies in his content analysis of personal Web sites finding that homepages were examples of self–presentation and that the strategies used were similar to those in interpersonal settings. Creators of personal Web sites “seem to be looking for approval from others. In cyberspace as in real life, ingratiation was the most used self–presentation strategy.” [8] Among the ten selected vlogs in the present study ingratiation, often through humor, is a common self–presentation strategy.

* Textual analysts investigate questions about “what people are doing or not doing, how they are doing it, and how it is connected to other things they are doing.” [13] Meanings found in these texts are like icebergs — there is a part one can see on the surface, but underneath there is a vast amount of other veiled meanings (van Dijk, 2006). Because of the depth and complexity of textual analysis, there is no single course of action (Wood and Kroger, 2000). In communication, a single utterance or expression can have different interpretations in different contexts; it is fundamentally tied to context…

* According to Lejeune and Lodewick (2001) a diary has four functions, which sometimes overlap. First, a diary is used to express oneself — to release and to communicate. A diary also permits its creator to reflect — to analyze oneself and to deliberate about one’s life in a “space and time protected from the pressures of life.” (Lejeune and Lodewick, 2001) A diary can be used to “freeze time”; to create a space to hold one’s memories and prevent them from being lost or forgotten. Lastly, it can be simply for the writer to “take pleasure in writing” and improve or experiment with her writing skills (Lejeune and Lodewick, 2001).

It became clear that one of the techniques used by vloggers is to create a vlog that feels like a personal diary. Vloggers attempt this by documenting details about their lives and thoughts that one might share in a diary. However, it also became clear that despite some vlogs’ intimacy, they were constructed presentations where a given vlogger’s “backstage” remains hidden.

A diary is a space to express, to reflect upon, to store, and to experiment with the self. Traditionally, it is a space that is private; ideally it is a person’s backstage where the self is freed from public performances (Goffman, 1959). The self is both “the mask the individual wears in social situations, but it is also the human being behind the mask who decides which mask to wear.” [15] In a diary an individual is free to wear a mask as well as to lift the mask to be purely one’s self.

Some diaries are written with the understanding that eventually they will be shared, like Augustine’s Confessions. In Book Ten, Augustine considers the question of how his readers will know if his “confession” is true or not, whether he is revealing his true self. Augustine concludes that it requires faith or “love” from his audience: “… the love in them believes me.” [16] It is up to the audience to decide what is true and what is not. In terms of vlogs, it seems that audiences prefer vlogs where vloggers play with their masks, making a given presentation seem true.

Of the ten video blogs in this study, often the ones that received the most responses (i.e., comments) from viewers and the most publicity were those that were fashioned like a diary. These vlogs appeared to use all four functions of a diary, giving the impression of revealing a specific vlogger’s true self.

* A blog, of any kind, will probably experience difficulty in keeping an audience’s interest if it remains purely narcissistic. A vlogger must broaden her perspective to maintain the interest of a given audience. Yet it is also the personal that involves the audience in the act of shared emotional experiences. Vloggers in search of making connections with others are faced with the difficult task of balancing personal and social interests.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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