Selfies & avatars as a form of reflection

Recently, I’ve spent much time and energy  discussing the pedagogical merits of blogging: a practice that supports skills such as social networking; providing and receiving feedback; developing a sense of audience; and creating a searchable, filterable, organizable record of thinking and growth over time. Alan Levine talks about this last benefit all the time – he can trace his learning for decades through his blog.  That’s wicked cool.

I’ve been blogging for about 5 years. It’s really interesting to look at how my practice has changed over time.  I had some better stories back then, but I’m better at telling them now. More balanced. I’m growing into my blogging and it shows.

However, a couple of nights ago I was searching through old folders on my PC. I was looking for an image that I needed to edit and submit for an upcoming publication. While I was searching (and cursing my lack of organization in the last days of my dissertation phase) I happened across a folder of old avatar pics, some of them as many as five or six years old.  My doctoral program was full of opportunities to establish a digital presence. Blogging, tweeting, and Google Plus were required in one class or another, LinkedIn was often encouraged by the faculty, Skype came in handy, and Instagram wasn’t much of a stretch. Furthermore, I presented at plenty of professional conferences and was interviewed for articles.. all of these required pictures or avatars.

Oh, the avatars. The selfies.

Selfies are somewhat controversial among the general population.  Some people have embraced them as opportunities to document, empower, or entertain.  Others see them as an alarming trend towards collective narcissism and self-involvement.  Since I tend to be the photographer of the family, I see them as the only real visual record of my existence in this world (seriously – and I’m not the only one with this problem).

When I look through the avatar folder, I see my graduate school story unfold as clearly as it does in this blog.  In fact, flipping through selfies might be a more visceral experience than clicking through blog posts, because the pictures were taken in a moment rather than composed over hours, days, or weeks.  When I look at these pictures, I see more than age changes (although there are plenty of those). I see a growing understanding of social media (that first picture on LinkedIn? really? I was a hot mess). I see signs belonging within academic communities (the Howard Rheingold impression). I see confidence in a professional role (never been more in my element than in that picture with my glasses on the top of my head). I see landmark occasions (graduation). I see my kids. I see some pretty significant depression this summer (the third and second to last pictures… I wince a little when I see them and recovery (what a difference a couple months can make).  I see me. The avatars help me lay it all out. They aren’t about self-absorption as much as sharing and recording, just like blogging.

LinkedIn – 2012.
Twitter – 2012.
LinkedIn – 2013.
WordPress – 2013
userpic_4297251_9c9e64d049c3492dbb9a63f0c8e514a6 – 2014
Twitter -2014/15
Conferences, Articles – 2015
Instagram – 2015
Twitter – 2015
Twitter – 2015
Google, Presentations – 2016
Twitter – 2016 (Graduation)
Twitter – 2016
Twitter – 2016
Instagram – 2016
Twitter – Today (Literally).


9 Comments Add yours

  1. Ken Bauer says:

    I love the idea of this post Laura and from an outside perspective I can remember the last few years of my progress through my memories of you changing your profiles. We do notice this as outsiders. I noticed Lee change her’s today. Keep up the posting, you inspire many of us.

    Waiting for Lee’s comment here shortly after mine.


    1. Laura Gogia says:

      Ok. Ken.
      A. I noticed Lee’s pic change today too – she has some awesome avatar changes and I need to tell her how much I like her new one…thanks for the reminder.
      B. The fact that you read, commented on, and tweeted out my post before I got a chance to do so…you are a freaking rock star and a competitive one too, I think :).
      C. I CANNOT WAIT to give you a giant bear hug in November during OpenEd. Be prepared.
      D. And I’m glad you thought the idea of considering avatars useful. I like you bringing up the fact that you have marked parts of your life through my avatar changes. That’s really interesting (and really sweet…see C.). I love it when people change their avatars up. But I’m trying to think…of our close Twitter friends, who else does it frequently?


      1. Ken Bauer says:

        A. You are welcome.
        B. Yes,I can be competitive but it is easy when an email alert comes in to let me know. No magic powers, really.
        C. I am looking forward to meeting so many people there including you of course. It will probably be overwhelming, don’t be surprised from tears.
        D. I really don’t change often but I used to make a point of changing once per year. I’m not much of a selfie person myself but I do identify deeply with visuals, sounds and smells. When reminded of a podcast of a blog post that was especially touching I can remember where I was while listening to or reading it. So I think sensory keys are important to our memory and identity.

        I wonder. I used to subscribe to ThinkUp! since I wanted to support Gina and Anil with their startup project (I do that often, sort of a “patron of the arts” thing) and it had this cool feature of alerting me when people changed their profile text or avatar. I need to find (or build) another similar too.

        Well, I’ve stayed up late waiting for my wife to return from yet-another-school-meeting-for-the-kids. She is home now so I can shut down the computers and get some sleep. See you soon at #OpenEd


  2. Maha Bali says:

    Love this post and am partial to particular profile photos of yours coz we had more DMs while u had them on or something 🙂
    I used to get absolutely traumatized when someone changed their profile photo. Seriously. I also remember when I changed my Facebook photo (twas me at 7 w my dad and I was changing it like 3 years after he passed away) and my mom called me to ask me to change it back! It was ridiculous/hilarious but I did it to pacify her because… It didn’t matter THAT much. She also thought she could have a say in my recent profile picture change (but we actually thought of the same idea so it wasn’t an identity struggle).

    ANYHOO. I love the idea of what selfies and avatars say about different phases of our lives and I make intentional decisions about when/where to use which ones. Mostly about whether I want people to recognize the full me or just remain mysterious (if u saw my half-face one, that’s the mysterious one). But yeah I don’t change it much. Mostly coz i don’t take good selfies. U should give me tips 😉 even tho i read the Jonathan Worth ones!


    1. Laura Gogia says:

      Hi Maha. Something you and Ken both said – the idea of a sense of ownership (wrong word, but hopefully you get my meaning) over someone else’s avatar. It’s SO INTERESTING. The picture is part of how you are imagining this person, because it’s not like most of us see each other every day or have even met in person. So when someone changes their avatar, it messes with your imagined image. Obviously there were other things at play with the story about your mom and Facebook….For me, I actually get (unreasonably) upset when I meet someone in person and they look nothing like their avatar (usually they look a lot older than they did in their avatar). I get a little ping of betrayal or something – something that I move through very quickly of course. That’s where I come from by changing up the avatar so much. I want to give you an honest (ok, I only choose good pictures but still :)) representation of what I look like so if we met on the street tomorrow you might recognize me. Now…as for taking good selfies, it comes from that time several years ago when I made it a five minute daily practice for a couple of months. Hundreds of deleted pictures. I read an article once about why so many people take selfies of themselves in the car…natural light, the dimensions from sitting behind the steering wheel give you the right distance and the right angle that is naturally flattering for most people. So I started in the car. It’s a wider angle lens on that phone camera (I think), so head on shots aren’t great. Natural light, slight angle, I shoot from slightly above to give more definition to features. I do use filters sometimes – in fact, I push most of my avatar shots through instagram. That last shot you like has some heightened contrast, but just a little. Go practice. I think it helped me take better portrait shots overall, so it’s not just about selfies.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Maha Bali says:

        Interesting! And yeah. I get pretty disturbed when someone doesn’t look like their photo. I initially joined Twitter w really old photos. The one i have had now for maybe 2 years(?) is closer to how I look. I think because i am on YouTube all the time via VCONNECTING everyone knows what i look like on a weekly basis (but not as flattering as my profile photo).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Laura Gogia says:

        Yeah, I just see you as I see you on YouTube. Your avatar doesn’t faze me one way or another now. In my head read your comments in your voice.

        Liked by 1 person

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