Project Description

a.k.a. Profile Glitch is an interactive online narrative that investigates the performance of identity on social media platforms. The conceptual aspects of the project are illustrated through a narrative about three characters: Marty, Maeve and Johanna who meet at an intentional community. The unique emotional and physical dynamics of communal life creates an intense interpersonal experience. The women develop a deep and unlikely friendship that would not have transpired if it weren't for the unusual social context of the intentional community. Eventually, Marty, Maeve and Johanna each decide to return to their respective cities and the dynamic of their relationship is altered. Marty begins an blog recounting her experiences at the commune. The online narrative begins when Johanna and Maeve discover the blog and confront Marty. The conflict between the characters highlights issues of self-identity and representation.

a.k.a. Profile Glitch is influenced by performance studies which suggests that identity is a performative act that is constructed, reinforced and reiterated by one's social context. Consciously or not, individuals play a variety of roles, using props and contextual elements, to illicit a response. The on-line social networking phenomenon has resulted in new concerns regarding the performance of gender, sexuality and embodiment.  Digital spaces, featuring user-generated content, transgress boundaries between digital and physical space, representation and performance, and private and public interactions. a.k.a. Profile Glitch aims to highlight the implications of Web 2.0 tools and digital technology on the performance of identity by tracing the transformation of three characters, their relationship with each other and with themselves as their friendships move from a close, intimate, physical experience to the virtual realm.

Social Relevance

In the 21st century, social networking has shifted from the physical to the digital realm. According to Facebook statistics, in December of 2011 there were 845 million monthly active users and an average of 483 million daily users. Social networking sites, such as MySpace, Facebook, and Google+, allow people to develop intimate social relationships and communities without ever meeting in the same physical space. In the networked world, social community and social intimacy are no longer equated with physical proximity. And yet, identity and persona are crucial aspects of connecting with other people virtually.


The online social networking phenomenon has become a topic of interest for social scientists and communications researchers. Niels Van Doorn, PhD, Amsterdam School of Communications Research (ASCoR), has written on how gender, sexuality, and embodiment are performed on Internet platforms that feature user generated content. Van Doorn highlights the way that digital spaces and artifacts are incorporated into performances of gender, transgressing boundaries between digital and physical space, representation and performance, and private and public interactions. The profile image is a good example of how social networking users create an online identity with digital artifacts. Dana Boyd and Jeffrey Heer discuss the significance of profiles in creating an identity online and point to the profile picture as the most noticeable component of one's digital identity and the regular updating of profile pictures as a performative act. Boyd and Heer also suggest that with online profiles, users do not just depict themselves, but help shape the representation of others on the site. The profile is not a static representation of self but is a "communicative body in conversation with other represented bodies." For youth and adults who are experimenting with their social persona, this can have both positive and negative consequences.


a.k.a. Profile Glitch addresses the issue of online identity performance and the networked construction of ones persona by exploring the discrepancies in the relationships between the intentional community and the online social environment. The intentional community where Marty, Maeve and Johanna meet is isolated from societal pressures that the characters normally experience. At the intentional community, they discover a greater sense of freedom to explore aspects of their personalities that they would not enjoy in their normal social structure. When the three women leave the intentional community and return to their previous social environments, it becomes a challenge for them to integrate the newly found aspects of themselves with the expectations put on them by their peers and family. This conflict is heightened when the three reconnect online and their social networks collide.


The accessibility of instant digital photography combined with the interface of social networking platforms has given the general public the capability to produce, select, maintain, and replace self portrait profile images with ease. The act of performing oneself through the photographic medium is no longer the purview of performance artists and photographers; it has become a common ritual for millions of people. a.k.a. Profile Glitch considers the phenomenological consequences of the performance of identity in a physically intimate community juxtaposed with the performance of identity in a virtual social network. This creative approach to the project will open discussion around the experience of self-presentation online and the consequences of experimenting with persona in the public realm of digital online communities.

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