Facebook friends step into the real world at Anglia Ruskin

Published: 14 June 2011 at 10:57

‘Transitions’ exhibition examines how teenagers interact on social networks

Artist Christine Webster will be exploring how teenagers’ involvement on social networking websites presents new ways of image construction and emotional expression in an exhibition at the Ruskin Gallery at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge.

Transitions looks at the role of desire and desirability in image creation, how that image is projected online, and how modern teenagers change between their virtual and actual selves.

Christine, who is a Senior Lecturer on the BA (Hons) in Photography course at Anglia Ruskin, interviewed and filmed groups of young people in the US, the UK and China for the project.  

Transitions features videos, audio and slide projections, and is the first exhibition to make full use of the newly-digitised Ruskin Gallery.  Videos of live social interaction, where the teenagers were filmed facing each other “offline”, are accompanied by interviews with the participants, while a slideshow will display images that the teenagers have uploaded online.

“I was keen to discover how young people swopped and changed between their virtual selves and their actual selves,”

said Christine.  

“Their offline and online personalities are in many cases totally different and it was clear that teenagers enjoyed constructing identities and projecting themselves to fit stereotypical roles.

“The more I looked into it, the more it became evident just how much time young people are now spending online.  There was one Chinese girl I talked to who was using QQ – the Chinese equivalent of Facebook – for an average of seven hours a day, even logging on from her phone during classes.

“Facebook and other social media sites now form an important role in shaping the personalities of young people all over the world, and globally there are more similarities than you would think.  The most obvious difference I encountered was that Chinese youngsters tend to be more private online, and often used cartoons on their profiles rather than photos.

“Adults think that young people spending more time interacting online has to be a negative thing.  Obviously parents have safety fears when their children are on the internet, and it’s true that some young people become addicted to social networking sites and spend far too much time online than is really good for them.

“However, for many quieter or more introverted youngsters, it can be an incredibly positive experience.  Whereas before they might have shut themselves away in their rooms, they can now receive confidence and affirmation from being appreciated for other attributes such as intelligence or wit by their online friends.”

Transitions runs from 20 June until 7 July (Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm) and entry to the Ruskin Gallery is free, while on 28 June at 4pm there will be a talk by Dr Barbie Clarke focusing on the way young teenagers interact using social networking sites.  Dr Clarke, who is a trained child psychotherapist, sits on the BBC Children’s Editorial Advisory Board.