Digital "Fads": How Performing Fads in the Digital Differs from the Analog

In a culture where we are constantly connected and essentially on display for members of our real and social networks, questions of identity building and performativity must be applied to several different spaces.  As a member of Generation Y, I’m constantly told how my peers and myself do and will react to this level of connectivity.

A society of “digital natives” (Palfrey & Gasser, 2005, p. 1), we were born with this technology sometimes quite literally at our fingertips.  Although this type of immediate and constant interaction is often used with good intentions, such as checking in with a child or reconnecting with an old friend, there is something to be said for too much of a good thing. As one’s digital presence extends into the analog and vice versa, as scholars like Sherry Turkle have pointed out, many Gen Y-ers grow tired of being constantly connected. 

In this post, I plan to explore how various “fads”, traditionally on display in the analog, can now spread to and change in the digital.  In this space, Gen Y-ers grow tired of these trends even faster than they would if restricted to the analog, which may speak to the instability and volatility of self-expression in a digital space.

Fitness as a Digital Fad

Though the fitness world is a traditionally analog space where gym members perform, on some level, for other gym members, or for explicit audiences (think: body builders, all gleaming tans and rippling biceps), it has not been until recently that fitness has permeated digital social media as a new fad. With an overflow of social media posts spouting “Fit is the new skinny,” and displaying food preparation, green smoothies, and stylish gym clothes, fitness and health performances have become just another way to put oneself on digital display. From recent Sports Illustrated cover model Nina Agdal’s flexing “selfies,” to MTV's The Jersey Shore star “Snookie” tracking her journey as a "fit mom,” this trend has become the newest way to be a part of the “in” group online.

^Jersey Shore star "Snookie" flexing her fit mom physique- #fitmom ?

While fitness is generally a positive concept (who doesn’t want to be healthier or lose a few pounds?), as I said before, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing when these concepts cross over into the digital.  Through interviews with Gen Y-ers that attend group fitness classes at my local gym, I have discovered that these online performances do follow much the same path as traditional trends.  In the digital world, there are still the ones who “did it before it was cool,” the new ones who “do it better,” and the ones who see the fad as something to be mocked, in order to position themselves as the non-conformist “other.”

^Green smoothies in mason jars- what better way to be "in"?

But these digital fads, when performed in their analog spaces, do something differently. All gym members that I spoke with mentioned being “sick of seeing fitness all over the Internet,” and expressed that they were quickly growing tired of this fad’s online presence. However, they found that it was still acceptable, and actually an "in" group requirement, to be extremely devoted to the fitness classes, diet regimens, and healthy personas at the gym. I wondered, did the analog space retain its "cool" because it's somehow more "real" than the digital? 

I found this topic interesting, as I haven’t previously seen examples of this separation of analog behaviors remaining “cool” past the expiration dates of their digital fads. As this project is still a work in progress, I open the discussion to other MediaCommons members (no matter which Generation you belong to), to gain a better understanding of digital fads and their effects on the analog spaces from which they evolve.

Palfrey, J., & Gasser, U. (2005). Born digital: Understanding the first generation of digital natives. New York, NY: Basic Books. 

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