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Facebook is celebrating its 10th birthday today amidst speculation of an impending decline. But the behemoth of social networks is showing no signs of flailing just yet.

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Facebook is one of the first things we check in the mornings and the last, before we go to sleep.

Whether its FOMO, addition or just habit, Facebook has become a stalwart pal for about one sixth of the world’s population, a staggering ‘citizenship’ which could surpass the number of people living in China, the world’s most populous nation, within the next year.

It seems the way people use Facebook is dependent on whether (or not) they grew up with the network. As Seth Fiegerman writes, ‘Facebook’s users seem to be divided into two groups: younger users who are forever connected to people from the past, and older users who are given a powerful tool to reconnect with those they’ve long since lost touch with’.

Having signed up to Facebook at the beginning of 2008, I wasn’t one of the first to jump on the bandwagon. But I did have an account before many of my friends, albeit one I saw as the inferior little sister to my, at the time, beloved Myspace. I actually got a Facebook account to keep in touch with new friends from interstate. Either myself or members of the Sydney clan had to make a move to the dark side (Facebook and Myspace, respectively), and I ended up caving to what I thought was the short straw. About a year later, Myspace became effectively defunct and I found myself pretty proud of my already established Facebook backlog and network.

Nevertheless, I still latched onto Facebook as a way of remaining connected, rather than reigniting long lost friendships from my single digit days. Simultaneously, my peers began to use Facebook as their primary social network, to the point where I’m now connected to hundreds and hundreds of ‘friends’ some of which I’ve either met only once, or haven’t spoken to directly in years. However, every now and then someone I might classify as ‘random’ (a word my mum thinks is ‘soooo Gen Y’) pops up on my newsfeed and I’m kindly reminded of their existence in the world, if not in my life as such.

At the moment, I’m still pretty dependent on Facebook to do what it does best and give me updates and a realtime tracker of what my friends and ‘friends’ are doing with their lives. Ironically, Facebook really shows just how much we’re not doing because we’re too busy updating our online presence through status’, photos and ‘checking in’ to places where we want to be (virtually) seen.

I am not out to diss Facebook. As I said, I’m still thoroughly engaged with, and through, the network to people I’d otherwise have lost contact with. Despite only being a few years out of school, there are so many people I’d have called close friends that I now, rarely see or even speak to. Facebook provides me with that virtual and emotional link to classmates with whom I spent weeks and years, side by side. Someone’s got a new boyfriend, someone else is on exchange, one girl is living abroad and another just qualified as a professional nurse and has already landed the job of her dreams.

When people announce exciting (or even terribly tragic) events on Facebook, there is an almost resurgence and instantaneous spill of camaraderie for those involved. It’s pretty amazing how quickly people come together for someone in need, or to celebrate and congratulate a new couple, job or marriage.

But Facebook also perpetuates a continuous disease of comparison between both strangers and friends. If the aforementioned friend got ‘the’ job while you lucked out, you might feel down. You see a group of old friends catching up without you and checking in somewhere for drinks, and now not only you know you’ve been sidelined, but everybody else in their network does, too.

And social networking is, ironically, incredibly self-centred. While each network proclaims to be about connecting people, they’re all centred around individual users creating a ‘profile’ through which they will portray themselves to the world. Yet whether by intuition, self-protection or devious scheming, what and how we choose to display ourselves online is overwhelmingly self-selected – and if it’s not, you can untag yourself or remove yourself from the group with the click of a button.

So people are choosing profile pictures where they’re pleased with their appearance. They’re checking in only at the places/with people with whom they want to be seen. They’re selectively creating a virtual profile of themselves filled with all the good bits, and only minimal (if any at all) aspects of their vulnerabilities. And as Brené Brown teaches us, there is so much power in vulnerability.

But with over 1.23 billion users worldwide, Facebook is clearly doing something right. The network also hosts thousands of support groups, allows for easy sharing of digital content, and makes inviting friends to your birthday soiree so much easier. Of course, sometimes you’re drowning in events from promoters or can’t see anything on your newsfeed other than bloody memes or videos of friends nek nominating each other, but being so privy at least means you’re kept in the loop… at all times… whether you like it or not.

I suppose what it all comes down to is the power of social networking in creating, building and maintaining relationships between individuals and groups across the globe. In the words of TheFacebook’s multibillionaire founder, Mark Zuckerberg, ‘It’s been amazing to see how people have used Facebook to build a real community and help each other in so many ways’.

Only time will tell if the network survives its terrible teens. Always reinventing itself, Facebook continues to keep up with if not, lead, the Joneses so if it continues to dominate global connectivity into the 2020s, here’s hoping we’re all still interested in those self-appointed popular girls from high school because, who knows? Maybe we’ll even see them settle down some day.

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In today’s Networked Media class, we had the opportunity to share our ‘niki’ entries, and read and provide feedback to other groups on their entries.

Nearing the end of the summer course, today marked the conclusion of the work on our second niki, for which my group (with Bryan and Venessa) focused on Pinterest.

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I’ve posted vaguely about Pinterest in the past, but if you’re ever looking for a mind-soothing relaxant without wanting to pop a pill, make the effort to take a bath or heat up some milk, Pinterest is your go to remedy.

Pinterest is essentially a virtual pin board and an avenue for exploring the world through collecting visual stimuli that take your fancy. Pinterest is kind of like Instagram in that its primary media is photographs, but Pinterest offers a greater scope for personal expression. For instance, I have six Pinboards on my profile, which I add to irregularly and usually in blocks. Unlike other social networks, I tend to use Pinterest only a couple of times a week – when I’m in need of said, quick brain-cure. It’s like flicking through your favourite magazine yet one that you can actually tailor specifically to your interests. A la other social networks, you choose who you follow, or even which boards you follow, and voila, hello Pinspiration!

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In another life, I was/will be an interior designer. For years and years I’ve adored trawling the web for oh-so-desirable interiors, and looking through (sadly buying few) ridiculously pricey coffee table books on home design and spatial erotica. ‘Interior porn’ is rampant online and I eat that shit up like there’s no tomorrow. Perhaps it stems from being dragged – weekly – to auctions as a child, along with house inspections and open gardens for the pure visual spectacle. But however it began, I’m so glad to have a simple pleasure in which I can indulge with just the click of a button or a trip to the bookshop, (except maybe when I’m Procrastipinning, something so hard to cease once you’ve found yourself in a New York loft or by the sea in Postiano, Italy).

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For our niki, my group decided to focus on a different aspect of the ever-growing social network; the business end. We came up with a speculative panel discussion between the business team behind Pinterest and retailers interested in utilising the platform to market their products.

Pinterest is actually such an intuitive marketing platform that almost inherently has Pinners become a part of the brand’s marketing team by liking and repining the retailers pins. If you’re interested in our speculative responses and more reasons to get pinning, check out our Pinterest niki page.

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Last night I uploaded a new profile picture to Facebook.

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The Likes I received were incredible/ridiculous/many. Every time I checked my phone, the Likes had increased. I went out to yoga, put my phone on silent, and by the time I came home an hour and a half later, the number had skyrocketed further, still. As I write, I’m on 209 Likes and 23 extremely generous and complimentary comments. That’s a Like Record for me, the most I’ve had on anything I’ve posted over my five plus years on the social media platform.

So, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, this is great! People think I’m attractive, people like what I’m wearing, my smile, the composition of the photo, or a combination of all of the above’. It made me feel good, I felt (no pun intended), Liked. I felt more worthy than I had a few hours before, I felt more accepted and somehow, more legitimate, as a valuable, equal member of my peer group, of society, if I can to take it to that extent.

Here’s the problem: I recently had a professional photo shoot at a professional photography studio. I had my hair and make-up done by an ‘artist’, was shot by a professional photographer, and the team used ‘props’ like a fan to blow my hair around, made lighting and furniture adjustments, and positioned me in ways they thought complementary to my figure/features/whatever. Essentially, they directed me into looking ‘good’. The photographer said she had all the knowledge and experience needed to produce the most flattering shots and I was (and still am) grateful for her keeping to her promise.

But, how do I know she succeeded?

Because one of those photographs is the one I made my profile picture less than 24 hours ago. That same one with the most Likes, kind comments and good feelings that have come as a result of the finished product.

Oh, there’s another Like. 210, now.

So, here’s the thing. What does it say about me that this course of events and tiny clicks, minute actions by others, granted, by you, that have led me to feel a significantly increased my self-esteem over a short period of time? How else could I have achieved this sense of okay-ness on my own? Am I so dependent on others that I am unable to pick myself up?

And, perhaps, what does it say about you? Is this a situation you’ve too, been in?

What lesson does it teach me, or us, about our society? About praise, about dependence, about the relationship between looking good and feeling good?

Instant gratification. Social media provides me – and I suspect most of my generation if not everyone active across the various platforms – with comments, Likes, Followers, that give me a sense of achievement. For that second that I’ve got someone else’s attention, I’ve been thought of, considered, mentioned.

Truth is, my presence in your mind probably is only momentary, fleeting if anything was. You’ve no doubt now scrolled down your newsfeed and Liked three other Friends photos, status’ or Shares. But in our fast-moving world, that moment I was present with you is as significant as I can ask for.

But, here’s the thing. Is that person in that picture you Liked actually me? I mean sure, it’s me – the image captures my hair, my face, my favourite clothes, my ring, my posture. But, I’ve been manipulated. Edited. Touched up.

Granted, it wasn’t actually touched up a whole lot. If I had a copy of the original, organic, un-Photoshoped photo, I’d post it here for you to make that judgement yourself. I saw it before editing though, and I’d say they only smoothed out a few blemishes or whatever they deemed to be imperfections on my face or something.

But, what about all these pre-production adjustments? I spent a good 20 minutes getting my hair and make-up perfected before they even considered taking me into the proper studio (for lack of a better word) part of the ‘studio’. Yes, they opted for a fairly natural look (upon request), and they let me bring my own clothes. So, I suppose the final photograph could be considered a fairly realistic representation of who I am. But, what is troubling is knowing that had I uploaded this picture (see below) instead, I’d probably be sitting on a solid, oh, five Likes, if I’m lucky. And they’d most likely be from my nearest and dearest who fit the ‘take me as I am’ brief.

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We’re constantly being bombarded by Photoshopped images of celebrities, by messages of the ‘ideal’ body type, skin colour, hairstyle. We’re told, heck, dictated to, what’s ‘hot’, what’s ‘in’, asked ‘who wore it better’, shown so-and-so’s ‘biggest blunder’.

To be honest, it’s all fucked.

And I can only say this because I play into this culture of externally-identified ideals of perfection and sources of assurance. I’m a victim and an offender but it’s perpetual, it’s enthralling, it’s insane.

We, as a society, have an addiction to judgement. We draw conclusions from un-evidenced or unsubstantiated data. We take thing at face value and buy into advertising, media reporting and gossip without stopping to consider our deeper values or attitudes.

Even when just taking that photo above on my computer’s Photo Booth, I took a couple. I wanted to look my best ‘in a bad situation’ (read; day at home, no make-up, dirty hair). Side note: omfg the temptation to edit that picture was enormous.

But, why is this? I’m not saying we don’t have the right to want to feel beautiful, to feel accepted and to want to be happy. Naturally, that’s an inherent aspect of building one’s self-esteem, something no one should be denied. It’s something principally deeper than that.

It’s more about how we source that emotion, and questioning why we value certain ‘sources’ over others.

And, it’s also about how much we rely on social media for quantified assurance and positive reinforcement.

211 Likes.

I don’t want to play the blame game anymore than I have, nor do I believe this culture has come about as a consequence of a single event/person/aspiration. It’s a process, it’s constantly evolving. And no one is immune (J-Law, case in point).

212 Likes.

I’m not anti-make-up, anti-media, or even anti-Photoshop.

But, if I – or you – can’t upload any picture of ourselves in equal self-confidence, and are dependent on external input to confirm or trash our mood and opinion of ourselves, I think there’s at least something to think about.

So today I met the most amazing guy while I was out shopping. I always thought people who say everything happens for a reason were kind of crazy but my mind’s spun 360. I’d just bought a top from Sportsgirl and as I walked out of the store, I turned my head to make sure I hadn’t left anything behind. My legs didn’t quite get the message so I kept moving forward while I was looking the other way, and what do you know? I bumped straight in to McDreamy. He had brown hair with a cute little curl down by his ears and his eyes were bright blue. He wore a black jacket with burgundy jeans and a little beanie, in a deep emerald that brought out his eyes. And then he said to me, ‘You look so hot today, Esther. Like a sunrise”.

Okay, clearly the above is a total coup and while I’m hesitant to publish such utter crap, and don’t want to be labelled as the girl who cried wolf, I’m interested to know how many people will click to ‘read more’ after scanning those opening lines. Ps. I promise I’ll never do it again.

This long weekend has been a chance to rest and recuperate (from what specifically, I’m not sure, just ‘life’ I suppose). I’ve been to a photographic exhibition, seen friends, celebrated a few birthdays and spent time reading. I thought I’d post a little recap of some things that have caught my eye or ear over the past week or so. So without further ado, here’s my What’s Hot? list for the Queen’s Birthday weekend of 2013.

1. You may or may not have been aware that we were given a whole day off today to watch the incredible talent of Broadway, by way of the Tony Awards. In fear of spoiling the results for those hungover and still in bed, or studying for an exam this week, I won’t say too much. But in case you were tossing up as to whether or not to watch the awards, here’s the ceremony’s opening number from the ridiculously innovative and entertaining Neil Patrick Harris. So much love for Lin-Manuel Miranda and his ridiculous lyrics.

2. I’ve also been listening to lots of podcasts. I’ve written about podcasting before, but I want to reiterate that it’s such a good way to catch up on news and cultural debates. Podcasts also open up windows of opportunity for you to gain insight into niche fields of study and enquiry. Some of my recent favourites are as follows:

3. On Twitter I’ve (Re-)Tweeted links to Dumbo Feather’s What Does Money Mean To You?, Steve Colquhoun’s piece, Is shiny Apple rotting at its core?, this short film about Zach Sobiech who said “You don’t have to find out you’re dying to start living”, and Mental Floss’ Five Hit Songs, Translated.

4. This pin has been repinned from one of my Pinterest boards 46 times and liked seven times.

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6. Here’s a Greenhouse made of caramelised sugar.

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7. And here’s a collection of cupboards, drawers, fridges and ovens. Click on the picture for more in  Erik Klein Wolterink‘s photographic series.

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Hope you’ve relished your last long weekend until November, Melbournians.

You can follow me on Twitter @estherlf or on Pinterest here.

Last Friday night I had the pleasure of attending the official launch of The Brainwash Project’s first print magazine. The Brainwash Project was created for young women as something “inclusive, empowering, intellectually stimulating and fresh”, by Melbournian, Jess Barlow. The Brainwash Project is somewhat of a healthy antidote to the countless publications that (un-intendedly?) serve to leave so many girls and women feeling inadequate, in comparison with the body, beauty and life ideals they promote.

The launch was such an incredible event. Set in a community hall, people from all walks of life came together to celebrate the magazine’s first print edition. The publication is bright, colourful, informative, entertaining and extremely professional. There were brave young singers, slam-poets and public figures to entertain the crowd, complementary nail polish painting, and other stalls with knick-knacks for your pockets. Professional photographer, Bianca Anderson ran a photo booth were attendees were invited to dress up as ‘Paper People’, a key aspect of the project as a whole. Barlow says that the idea of Paper People illuminates “how unrealistic it is to lust after a different appearance to our own” as well as “how easy it is to change [one’s] appearance using Photoshop or even just old magazines and scissors”.

I love this notion of Paper People, and the more I think about it, the more it resonates with me. So often, we (both women and men, girls and boys) are presented with figures, images and ideals that are literally unattainable. Celebrities are one aspect of this saga, but aside from the photoshopping post-shoot, these people often have wads of excess cash to use on self-enhancement projects, absurd diets, expensive ‘health’ retreats, extravagant foods and surgical procedures that help to maintain the image they so desperately want to preserve.

Consider this article on the phone application, Pixtr. Pixtr offers you the chance to “put your best face forward” through giving you a plastic, fantastic, Barbie-like appearance. As journalist, Chris Taylor notes, this app is sure to be put to use on shameless selfies, embarrassing nightclub photos and any image in which the profiler deems themselves to be in some respect inadequate or imperfect.

Additionally, this recent Dove ad has received widespread coverage, urging women to challenge how they see themselves, and the value they place on their appearance. It has to be said that the ad has received some criticism which is hard to ignore, but the principle and what I assume to be Dove’s overall aim of the campaign, in nonetheless intriguing and it’s pretences are deeply upsetting. So many people judge, value and categorise themselves based on a single feature of their face or their body. People compare themselves to other people, denying themselves the very miracle they are born with – uniqueness. There are literally no two people alike. That’s pretty unbelievable.

Alas, there are many contributing factors to negative self-esteem, and the media is just one of these components. But the Brainwash Project is helping young women take a step in the right direction.

So I encourage you, I urge you, to find out more about the Brainwash Project. This first 188-page, colour filled magazine has also become a platform for young people to showcase their talents, promote worthy, youth-oriented causes, and has contributors from all over the world. The magazine speaks its message: the cover is plain white, until you cast your eye over the back, bottom corner, and that corner reads ‘don’t judge things by appearance’.

I have two pieces featured in the magazine. The first is a feature on Melbourne fashion designer, Eve Walton-Healey. She has recently launched her own label called White tailed Fawn. You can check out her blog here. The second, is an interview with local Melbourne band The Darjeelings. They are incredible and I’d definitely recommend reading the piece to find out more about their musical inspirations, how they manage to balance school, family, friends and music, and what their plans are for the future.

If you’d like to purchase a copy of the Brainwash Magazine, you can enter the shop here. Delivery is available Australia wide, as well as internationally. Barlow is hoping to also make available a digital e-version of the magazine, so be on the lookout for that edition, too. While the price may be higher than your average girls or women’s rag, the it’s because the content and presentation is far from average. And it’s all for a worthy cause. So buy a copy for your daughter, your sister, your granddaughter, niece, or as they say in Parks and Recreation, treat.yo.self to a copy of Brainwash Magazine. Because if we’re going to take anything from the cosmetics industry it should be this: Because you’re worth it.

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*I first wrote about the crowd funding campaign for The Brainwash Project back in September last year. The Brainwash Magazine is the result of hard work, time, volunteering, talent and dedication. Congratulations to all those involved. Support the cause on Facebook, here.

This is my first Christmas as a user of the popular smartphone app, Instagram. I refused to jump on the bandwagon for many months, making excuses that it was just another way for people to be pretentious, capturing their lives and applying filters for friends to double tap images in approval. Like many social mediums, it puts a focus on external reinforcement of your value as a person, through gaining followers and posting photos interesting enough for people to active their thumb and let you know. Props go out to those with more followers than those they follow. Pretentious – I think so.

But nonetheless, I have grown particularly fond of my Instagram account, as is commonplace with its millions of users. Last week, Instagram (owned by Facebook) issued a new set of Terms and Conditions to come into effect in January, 2013. The new set of agreements stated that any images on a public profile could potentially be used by the company for their own advertising purposes, without making payment to the image’s original owner. However, Sky News has reported, “Instagram has no intention of selling your photos, and we never did. We don’t own your photos, you do.” Love a good bit of backlash to get regain our rights, huh?

Anyhow, on any given day I might log into Instagram a couple of times an hour, when I’m bored, when I have reception, or when I have an image to upload, myself. My usage of the app varies, but not a day goes by where I am completely sans Instagram. I am a product of my generation, but I feel my (over?)use of the program is not unusual amongst my peers. I follow friends predominantly, but also models, musicians and photographers from around the world, whose accounts I find are often updated from ‘a place I’d rather be’ (thanks, Corona).

So today I expected an increase in Instagram use due to the fact that it is Christmas Day (read my last post for my thoughts and wishes here), but what was once a platform where I may get one or two updates an hour, has been utterly transformed into an almost literal constant photo feed of celebrations, meals (Instagram – forever a foodie’s heaven), Christmas trees, dinning room tables adorned with Christmas crackers, champagne glasses, extended family clans, a multitude of presents, dressed up animals (with a variety of expressions), alcohol, scenic views, and brothers and sisters putting on a smile for the family photo.

So many photos, so little time one would think, on a day where it is important to be physically present and enjoying the company of those around you. But that’s the digital age for you, one where we are constantly connected, forever updating our profiles, our cyber existence, our Data Maps.

Regardless, I’ve enjoyed captured moments of Christmas from around the world, and for that, I have Instagram to thank. We had many funny moments here at our family Christmas, including my grandfather giving my dad a stack of presents most likely meant for my mum or me – a beautiful set of genuine Milano pearls as a multi-tiered necklace, a purse, bags and more, and he himself joining the digital age at 90, with a new mobile phone. Christmas is definitely something special.

You can follow me on Instagram at @elevfen.

And I recommend you follow these users too for your daily dose of viewing pleasure: Lynette Scott – @nett35, Doina Ciobanu – @goldendiamonds, Kristina Bazan – @kristina_bazan, @interiorinspiration, Charmaine Olivia – @charmaineolivia, @homes_, and Rumi Neely – @rumineely.

Dolls and oys are seen broken in a kindergarten hit by a Palestinian Grad missile fired from Gaza Strip

Operation Pillar of Defense occurred last month from 14-21 of November. Gili Yarri and his photographic lens captured moments of horror on one side of the ugly battle. A photojournalist who seeks peace for all and works with a social conscience, Yarri’s life in the Hefer Valley, just north of Tel Aviv, with his wife and three children is always under threat. To find out Yarri’s professional perspective on the Fight for Freedom and to read the interview, click here.