Where does the sense of self begin and end in a world where the digital and the physical are increasingly intrinsically interlinked? There have been cultures where the act of having a photograph taken of oneself was felt to be akin to having one’s soul taken away. Today, the selfie has been a trend that few who can access the internet will have failed to miss. Technology continues to advance. As it does so, the way that the individual relates to their sense of self also changes. This is the basis of the premise behind a cool but quirky piece of artwork by Stéphane Allary that creates a parody of Google Glass.
We now live in an age where televisions and the internet project moving images across the globe in seconds, where thousands of smartphone photographs are taken each second, social media shares our photos in an instant. Our smartphones are termed ‘out-brains’ by leading tech visionaries. An age where virtual reality and augmented reality have taken the tangible and the digital and combined them into, well, something somewhere between. Amidst the array of images and videos the wearable technology trend is emerging too. And it is emerging somewhere in the middle of a trend for taking photographs of outselves, the selfie.
3D printing and the selfie have already merged in the 3D selfie phenomena that has spread across the industry and even into supermarkets, such as Walmart’s ASDA chain in the UK, perhaps improved in the 3DME series by 3D Systems. But here, Stéphane Allary has merged the two in a different way via Google Glass. The tongue-in-cheek use of Glass is a commentary upon the sense of self in the digital age.
Allary’ articulates: “Selfie for Glass seems, at first, to be a new product coming straight from Silicon Valley: an accessory for making selfies with Google Glass. But quickly, the absurdity of the product becomes blindingly obvious. It is, in fact, a rear-view mirror, printed in 3D, allowing the user to overcome the impossibility of taking selfies with Google Glass (due to the camera being directed away from the wearer’s face). Via this absurdity, the artist offers a vision which highlighs the ebb and flow between technology and behavior. The seflie was born from technology, namely the addition of a front mounted camera on smartphones, however this usage seems to be discouraged by Google Glass, despite its newer technology and intrinsically narcissistic, show-off status. The aberration of the object and the different tensions it generates makes it possible for the public to reflect in various ways on the impact – or lack of impact – of technologies on issues of identity.”
Allary’s artwork poses many questions and asks us to deliberate upon sense of self in the digital age. For myself these are questions where the connectedness between technology and person first met: How did it feel when the first person looked in the first mirror? How did the disbelief when the first photographs were produced showing images of people without pencil, pastel or canvas turn into inspiration? On January 26, 1926, as John Baird’s televisor – the first functional television – showed the first hazy greyscale images of a person in motion over 12 frames a second, what was the sensation for the members of the Royal Institution and co, at his lab at Frith Street, Soho, London?
Art, as ever, prompts a self-reflection. Here the irony being that the self-reflection is upon our sense of self.