Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Imagined vs. Invisible Audience

Boyd argues that one of the defining properties of the networked public is the “invisible audience.” On page 9 she writes “”While we can visually detect most people who can overhear our speech in unmediated spaces, it is virtually impossible to ascertain all those who might run across our expressions in networked publics.”

I think there is a tension that exists between these “invisible audiences” and the “peer audiences” that seem to control the appearances of the “digital bodies” in some way. Boyd writes that the profiles are created for the “primary audience [that] consists of peers that they know primarily offline” and that “because of this direct link between offline and online identities, teens are inclined to present the side of themselves that they believe will be well received by these peers” (12, 13).

A New York Times article from 2006 (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/19/fashion/sundaystyles/19SELF.html) writes that the self-portrait has become “a kind of folk art for the digital age” and quotes one psychologist who writes that teenagers use them to project to an “imaginary audience” and do not gloss over the fact that participants change lighting, take multiple shots, and delete the “duds,” presumably to pander to the “imaginary audience” and its taste.

I think that the “imaginary audience” is perhaps more fitting than the term “invisible audience.” One of the utopian promises of the internet holds that the internet is a place without race, class, and gender. On the internet, as the MCI commercial tells us, we are just minds. My question, then, is this: What credibility does portraying your real body in flattering light have that portraying someone who is not your gender, race, ethnicity does not? What are the limits of truly writing into existence your own digital body? How do peer audiences in “real” life serve to transform the digital body? What is the relationship between and invisible and an imagined audience? How does the imagined audience operate to make the invisible body visible?

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