“It is clear that our digital age has not separated us more from each other, or that we experience our lives less physically – quite the opposite. ‘The digital’ seems to reach us and our bodies more and more, currently perhaps best represented by wearable cameras and other wearable technology. Here in the West, we currently find ourselves not so much in a digital revolution as in constant digitality,” says Lisa Ehlin.

Seeing a sea of small illuminated screens at a concert may be perceived as nobody watching the concert, but perhaps the reality is that everyone is collectively sharing the experience while creating personal moments. The image is part of the present, not a frozen moment to be printed on paper later on. In this way, the digital is also experienced, argues Lisa Ehlin in her doctoral thesis Becoming Image. Perspectives on Digital Culture, Fashion and Technofeminism.

The thesis analyses different contemporary uses of digital images, such as selfies and the microblogging platform Tumblr. Moreover, fashion serves as a theoretical context for the use of images throughout the thesis.

Masculine-gendered technology
The feminist perspective is important to Lisa Ehlin and has been the driving force of the thesis. Digital technology is still seen as something masculine, despite the fact that many women now use it in their daily lives. 

“There are often underlying structures regarding what new technology is ‘meant’ to be and not be used for. Selfies, for example, were not part of that equation. The fact that women are seen as ‘amateurs’ when it comes to using technology because they choose to use devices in ’other’ ways is a clear reflection of these structures,” says Lisa Ehlin.

Lisa Ehlin compares taking a selfie to creating one’s own digital “space”. Taking and sharing a selfie in social media involves the complexity of observing oneself while being observed by others. It is often about being a subject and taking up space in a public place.

“The way that we often ascribe shame and guilt to taking a selfie is a sign of insecurity about the fact that a woman can make herself into both observer and the observed. Selfies and fashion often go hand in hand, for example when taking a picture of oneself wearing an outfit. Both practices are considered shallow and self-centred, but the surface is also the place where we structure ourselves and our bodies,” says Lisa Ehlin.

If everything is digital, is anything digital?
Lisa Ehlin argues that images, perhaps because they appear so mundane and banal, are far more important to us than we give them credit for. Another fundamental question throughout the thesis is: if everything is digital, is anything digital?

“We often dress according to images in our mind, or project an ‘image’ of what we want to accentuate about ourselves. We are, as it were, already used to creating ourselves as images, and by continuously taking pictures of ourselves, this creative process continues. Nowadays, there are even bracelets that project the telephone screen onto the forearm – if we see the body increasingly becoming a part of the technology in this way, we really ought to ask ourselves what is body and what is image.