Digital Technologies in Everyday Life with Emily Chivers Yochim

Digital Technologies in Everyday Life

Emily Chivers Yochim

Allegheny College

I did the research for Skate Life: Re-Imagining White Masculinity between 2001 and

2006. These were the early days of social media: Friendster and MySpace were in their heyday,

and YouTube didn’t launch publicly until the end of 2005. I spent much of my time with

skateboarders in a basement skate shop, sitting on a worn couch and watching industry-produced

skate videos on VHS. The skaters told me about who they were by showing me these tapes and

telling me about their favorite professional skaters. They also spent a lot of time using hand-held

camcorders to record their own skate lives, videoing nearly every skate session and pulling out the

camera to capture more mundane moments between sessions. Those in the group lucky enough

to have access to video editing technologies at their schools or on the parents’ computers spent a

lot of their time editing these “sponsor me tapes,” artfully weaving together shots caught with

fish-eye lenses, setting montages of skate tricks to music (from punk to indie pop to Bing Crosby’s

“White Christmas”), and splicing in “lifestyle scenes” that captured the skaters’ witty (and often

vulgar) repartee. Amateur production of edited presentations of the self has long been a critical

part of skate life, an important outlet for showcasing skateboarding as an art and a means of self-

expression. For skaters, video production itself was also an art, albeit one spliced with the

industry’s representational norms and sometimes oriented toward skaters’ desire to become part

of the industry as sponsored professionals.

A decade later, skaters are of course firmly ensconced on social media and producing

videos with far more sophisticated and widely available technology. While skaters have long been

amateur producers, the widespread installation of these technologies into middle-class everyday

lives via smart phones and consumer-grade, highly sophisticated video and editing tools has likely

shifted skaters’ relationship to these self-presentational labors. In Authentic™: The Politics of

Ambivalence in Brand Culture, Sarah Banet-Weiser argues, “In the contemporary context, the

creation of the ‘authentic self’ continues to be understood as a kind of moral achievement …

where to truly understand and experience the ‘authentic’ self is to brand this self” (60-1).

I wonder, how have skaters’ “lay theories” (Seiter, 1998) about self-presentation, video aesthetics,

and authenticity changed with the rise of digital technologies and social media?  To what extent

is the work of self-presentation itself an element in the enactment of white masculine norms or

skateboarders’ ongoing ambivalent challenging of those norms? Might we develop an historical

analysis of self-presentational work to better understand how we have come to fold these labors

into daily life? How have these technologies been woven into everyday life, always at-the-ready

for putting life on display? Skaters in the early 2000s found video editing to be painfully time-

consuming; they obsessed over perfecting the editing and approached the work with far less

improvisational joy than the skateboarding itself. Have new technologies changed this

experience? These questions beg not only critical historical engagement with mediated self-

presentation but also ethnographic analysis of everyday mediated lives. As these technologies

become evermore mundane, imbricated in our daily comings and goings, how do they shift

young people’s public voices and their relationship to commercial industries?

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