Can’t stop staring at yourself in video calls?

"A Video Call With Yourself" is an interactive website that explores the psychological and social effects of viewing oneself in video calls.

At least since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, video calls have become part of everyday life for many people. Much of the professional and social interaction has been and still is happening in video calls as a result of lockdowns and home office. Partially daily, people see others, but more importantly themselves, via webcams.

It's like a constant mirror - you can supposedly see yourself as others see you. It's not the image of you that you know from the bathroom mirror or pictures and videos. You see how you interact, what gestures and movements you make, how you react to others. It seems as if you have yourself as a counterpart.

But to constantly look at yourself from the outside does something to you. One evaluates and classifies oneself. It is a form of constant self-monitoring and self-control of one's presentation.

Self-presentation plays an increasingly important role in today's world. In times of selfies and self-representation via social media, everyone wants to be the master of their public image. To have control over one's external impression, however, one must also control oneself. Especially in a live performance, it is therefore important to convince yourself of the image you provide and to check on the effect of your staging again and again.

The metaphor of the panopticon has since Michelle Foucault's "Discipline and Punish" (1975) been used as a common model of the principle of order in modern surveillance societies. In the concept developed in the early 19th century by Jeremy Bantham for the construction of prisons, the simultaneous surveillance of several persons by a single supervisor is made possible. This is done by constructing the cells in such a way that the supervisor can see all cells at any time, but the prisoners cannot always see the supervisor and thus do not know whether they are currently being seen. Accordingly, they are permanently exposed to the feeling of possible surveillance. The fact that surveillance is invisible lets one control individual behavior even when it is not being monitored. Self-monitoring and disciplining in this way have become the main source of social control in modern society. It is, according to Foucault, an essential component of Western liberal disciplinary society and the resulting social conformity of the individual.

The idea of the panopticon can be applied to video calls. You sit in the middle and countless potential observers sit on the outside and look at you - or not. One does not know.

Gilles Deleuze continues Foucault's ideas on the transition from the disciplinary society to the society of control, in his essay "Postscript on the Societies of Control" (1990), writing "I understand the difference between the two types of society in terms of power primarily in terms of a shift into the individual. The disciplinary society always tried to grasp and influence the individual from the outside (with commands and prohibitions). The control society increasingly leaves this laborious work to the individuals themselves.”

* 2021-2022


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