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Smartphone photos help young people develop their identity

Eternity in an Instant via Getty Images

With the triumph of smartphones, photos and videos have become more and more part of everyday life. Young people in particular also use images for self-portrayal and communication in social media – whether on Instagram, Snapchat or TikTok. “Life or biography is no longer just told, but increasingly photographed and filmed,” said Michaela Kramer, media educator at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, in a press release.

Kramer carried out a qualitative study as part of her dissertation. This shows that young people also use their smartphone pictures posted on social media to find their identity – in other words, to find answers to the questions “Who am I, how did I become, who I am and who will I be?”. Kramer calls this visual biography work in her work of the same name. The term allowed her to analyze and classify different ways of dealing with smartphone images.

Young people use smartphone photos to find their identity

For the study, she selected twelve young people between the ages of 13 and 17 with different interests and social backgrounds. You should tell her about yourself and choose five pictures from her social media profiles that were allowed to be analyzed as part of the study. Basically, these images can be divided into three groups: body images, images of the surroundings and reproductions – that is, screenshots or photographed photos.

Kramer emphasizes in the press release that this is only an excerpt: “As a social group, young people are multi-layered and use smartphone photography in different ways and with different intensities.” Nonetheless, social norms are of central importance for smartphone photography. And the young people would behave differently to these norms.

Three types of visual biography work

In the analysis, the scientist was able to differentiate between three types of visual biography work. These guys use the photos from their smartphones or other cameras very selectively on social media. One of the types is characterized by “distinction”. This is an artistically ambitious guy who wants to set himself apart from others through professional equipment and image design.

She called a second type “conformity”: Here, only the cell phone is used for taking photos. Also, this guy mainly takes body images – in the poses that are common on social media. She referred to a final type as “risk minimization”. The young people rarely post selfies or body images. Instead, they share reproductions or images of the environment so as not to embarrass themselves in front of others.

According to the press release, Kramer concludes that dealing with visual media has an identity-creating value for young people. It is important for young people to visualize their biography, engaging with their past, present, and future. Because through the pictures they remember who and how they were and at the same time determine how they want to be seen by others in the future. In this way they answer the question of their own identity.

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