Kimberly Hassel takes the page 99 test

Page 99 of my dissertation begins with a passport photograph taken of me in 2016, juxtaposed with a purikura photograph taken in the same year.

Purikura, a colloquialism for “print club” (purinto kurabu), are photo booths that allow users to take photographs, edit the photographs using a stylus and touch screen, and receive instant prints of these photographs. The term may also refer to the instant prints themselves. The image caption reads:

“Standard passport photograph of the author taken in 2016 (left), juxtaposed with a purikura photograph taken in the same year (right). The purikura photograph was taken with its default filter and editing options. Note that the author’s skin has been lightened, her curls have been smoothed, her eyes have been enlarged, and her facial and bodily features have been slimmed down.”

In the paragraph that follows the images, I propose that smartphones and Social Networking Services (SNS, the localized term for social media) such as Instagram constitute portable purikura:

“Smartphones and visual-centric SNS such as Instagram constitute portable purikura. The filters, stickers, and editing features on Instagram are not unlike those found within the process of rakugaki. Most importantly, smartphones and SNS have become enveloped in the media ecology of purikura. Manufacturers of purikura such as Makesoft offer their own smartphone apps that ease the process of saving digital copies of purikura and sharing these copies on SNS. In conversations with young women, I learned that it was not uncommon to ‘research’ potential poses and editing strategies for purikura on Instagram. This saves stress and time during the actual practice of taking purikura. The prevalence of hashtags on Instagram such as #purika pose (#purikura pōzu; #プリクラポーズ) and #purikura editing (#purikura kakō; #プリクラ加工) demonstrate reliance on user-created content as a source of information and inspiration for creativity. Purikura is becoming even more convergent.”

Page 99 embodies one central argument of my dissertation: while digital technologies offer different and “new” modes of being social, this “newness” is not always “new.” Chapter Two, where page 99 is located, demonstrates how “new” mediatic assemblages involving SNS and smartphones are extensions of past and ongoing forms of gendered socialities and economies. I draw connections between historical and contemporary forms of consumerist play among Japanese girls and women: purikura culture, instabae (Instagenic) culture, the Discover Japan tourism campaign of the 1970s, and contemporary “photogenic travel” campaigns.

The intersections between “old” and “new” media constitute only part of the larger story of my dissertation. While page 99 focuses on play, my dissertation also discusses themes such as intergenerational tensions regarding the (mis)use of digital technologies. My dissertation, Mediating Me: Digital Sociality and Smartphone Culture in Contemporary Japan, examines the intersections of SNS, smartphone ownership, and shifting notions of sociality and selfhood among young people in Japan. I ask: How can the digital serve as a lens for understanding change and continuity in contemporary Japan, especially with regards to gender and identity? I conducted fieldwork in Japan between August 2019 and August 2020, and remotely between August 2020 and October 2021. Through an integration of interview data, media and literary analysis, and ethnographic vignettes called “Mediations,” I emphasize that perceived norms and moral standards centering on digital embeddedness are constantly (re)negotiated. In each chapter, I examine particular user groups and moments, such as digital activism among Black Japanese youths during the global Black Lives Matter demonstrations of 2020. The process of (re)negotiation became especially apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, which coincided with my fieldwork. My dissertation also highlights the indispensability, promises, and ethics of digital ethnography.  

While page 99 only captures one practice within the fabric of digital sociality in contemporary Japan, it highlights an important reminder: the dynamics that accompany digital sociality can be applicable to past, present, and future technologies, practices, and visualities.

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