Social media feeds are all about the meticulous art of curation – be it an expression of joy, a tribute to friends and family, philosophical realisations or simply entertaining GIFs.
To data analysts, each post provides a larger picture of human behaviour and the culture of the user’s environment.
“Future historians won’t have to rely on manuscripts, newspapers, legal docs, faded diary entries, crumbling archives – we’re writing the first draft of everything right now,” says data specialist Angad Chowdhry in his TedX speech above.
Of course, our vast digital footprint, which is uploaded every second, runs the risk of being reduced to pie charts and numbers by digital marketers studying consumer behaviour.
But will this reveal the truth about us? Chowdhry explains that social media posts are not as open as they may seem – users filter their images and videos in a way they want their friends to see it. It is an act of control. “It’s an act of aggressive framing,” he said.
But at the same time, says Chowdhry, who specialises in cultural semiotics and digital ethnography, it is possible to see past these carefully constructed images by looking for subtle slips.
The more aggressively one controls one’s digital uploads, the more one allows details to slip out. It’s not unlike the proverbial “slip of the tongue” on the part of the discreet.
To illustrate his point, Chowdhury discusses what he found after combing through 10,000 images uploaded from the city of Gurugram. One of the big clusters was of images of men working out and showing off their guns. But when they weren’t flexing their muscles, their hands were in their pockets.