Nothing has made me more aware of the paradigm shift from a written culture to a visual culture than my initial impressions of Tinder. Now, this seems like a weird way to start a conversation about the changing nature of culture in the 21st century that the Internet is accelerating, but stay with me on this. I recently signed up to Tinder and one of the first things that caught my attention – other than the hilarity of the whole thing – is how curated of an experience it is. But, before we get onto to that, a brief rant about oral, written, and visual culture.
Oral culture refers to the form of culture that predates written history (referred to as oral history). Here, events were remembered through the telling of stories and the singing of song; important historically events were recollected through tales and epic poetry. It stayed this way for a long time; especially among the poor sectors of various societies that would not be literate and/or have access to the means to participate in written history. So even after the advent of written language oral culture remained the norm among the majority of the population. It wouldn’t have been until the advent of the printing press, the mass production of paper, and the spread of literacy that culture would have properly become based in the written form. In this instance, culture begins to spread through the written form; this includes cultural memories. Ideas and histories begin to be collected and remembered through the written word in ways as mundane as diaries; effectively, histories and identities are written into existence. Visual culture can be seen to have started with the rise of photography and the spread of the photographic form. This has however, accelerated as the means of creating images and distributing them have become simpler and more accessible; we have reached the point now where almost everyone has a camera in their pocket. This process effectively highlights how the development of technologies leads to cultural shifts as the various technologies begin to inform and be informed by the culture they function within effectively creating cultural feedback loops.
Quick summary out of the way, getting back to my impressions of Tinder and visual culture. The first key point I noted was at a very basic level of how important photos of the self are. In no other point in my life had I been made so aware that I have almost no photos of myself (let alone photos I would consider flattering). My lack of any decent photos was then exaggerated by the plethora of profiles that had images that looked like they came from professional photo shoots. Effectively, creating profiles that are curated to look like they belong to some kind of b-grade celebrity. Effectively, identities are being carefully curated based on visual styles and aesthetics. This indicates, to me at least, a shift to visual culture; exaggerated by the general consensus that no one reads a profile’s bio.
Now, this is not a bad thing. In a lot of ways this purely visual mode of engaging with dating more closely resembles offline dating forms than anything that has preceded it. But this appears to be part of a greater shift to the visual form becoming the dominant form as how memory and history is created and archived in modern societies. Photo albums fulfilled this role for previous generations, but, a fundamental difference here is the online-offline dichotomy. Grandma’s photo album very rarely saw the light of day, let alone existed in a world wide web that anyone could access if they knew where to look. For me, this is a huge difference between the two that cannot be overlooked. Granny’s photo album will never be pried upon by strange eyes, whereas your Instagram account exists for that very purpose. Effectively, the old photo album is commemorative, Instagram is performative; it is identity visualised into existence.
However, the most affronting thing that I noticed regarding a greater cultural shift towards visual culture is from LinkedIn (as an underemployed recent graduate). This incident was LinkedIn telling me that I was much more likely to get potential employers to view my profile if I included a picture on my profile. The reason why this is so affronting is simply due to the nature of the platform: this is a platform that functions as an online CV where you would hope that your qualifications and skills speak in regards to your employability. Well, unfortunately not. Even here, the visualising of your identity into existence matters most representing a shift away from written culture and towards the visual.
Effectively, what all this has made me realise is that I should put more effort into visualising myself into existence on the internet; especially if I want to develop professionally. Given the dominance of the visual mediums to commercial forms, this cultural shift reflects a marketised logic through which individuals must marketing themselves; not just so they can get a career, but also matches on Tinder.
Alternatively, I might start selling my services as a social media photographer; business will surely be booming.