ISSN 1016-1007 GPN2005600032
頁數:97-148﹣97-148 組裝行動與混成的情緒: Instagram使用者的憂鬱書寫、連結與共生 Assembled Actions and Hybridized Emotions: The Posting, Articulating, and Symbiosis of Depressed People “with” Instagram
Chia-Rong Tsao, Zhao-Hong Chen
assemblage, Instagram, new materialism, posthuman, the depressed people
This research examines how “we” (including human and non-human actors) affect each other on Instagram and thus engender emotions, feelings, and actions in the contemporary post-human condition. Different from Sherry Turkle’s argument in Alone Together, we do not regard the state of always relying on connections with each other to be a symptom of a fragile and narcissistic self. This research argues that, in the post-human condition, we are no longer traditional humanist subjects who are regarded as independent and individualized subjects. The concepts of “self” and “subject” need to be redefined and understood in the context of contemporary technological developments and changes. It is not to say that “humans” do not have “self” or are not “subject” anymore; rather it means that what needs to be changed is to treat “human” as completely independent individuals with definite boundaries. The post-human condition also means that the perspective of traditional humanism no longer can explain who (or what) are the real “actors” any more. In other words, we need to reconsider everyday life from the more-than-human perspective.

This research takes the daily using and posting practices of depressed people on Instagram as the example and adopt new materialism as our theoretical frame. Taking depressed people on Instagram as the example does not mean that they are special cases. On the contrary, we regard the efforts and struggles of depressed people on Instagram as activities against the contemporary consumer culture. Unlike “normal” users who typically present their glamorous selves, depressed users on Instagram look for a supportive place or relationship. Their activities also accentuate how humans (and non-humans) affect each other and through this illuminate for us the limitation of Turkle’s criticism of “the collaborative self”, which is based on the perspective of the traditional humanism.

The research materials are mainly gathered in two ways. First, one of the researchers, who is also a depressed Instagram user, records his own experiences and observations on Instagram. The researcher began writing his own daily experiences and feelings on Instagram in 2014 and started to make connections with other depressed users through the mediation of specific hashtags at the beginning of 2018. The researcher recorded these personal experiences and field observations during early 2018 to early 2020 through his autobiographical writing and field notes. The second part of our research materials is interview data of depressed users with whom the researcher make connections on Instagram. In addition to building relationships online, depressed users on Instagram also have held offline gatherings to develop relationships further. The researcher has joined the gatherings several times and through this built trusted relationships with some of the participants. After that, the researcher interviewed four depressed users in late 2019 and early 2020.

To explicate our theoretical perspective for analyzing depressed Instagram users’ connections and relationships, this research discusses how the new materialism and post-human theories could contribute to our analysis. In a nutshell, this theoretical frame could (1) give a different viewpoint that does not see technologies or artificial objects as just neutral and passive tools and therefore will not confine them in the analysis of the contents of communication; (2) in contrast to the affordance theory that already brought the technological objects and their mediation into focus, this theoretical frame also goes further to foreground the “affects” of users’ (and non-human actors’) interactions, which is beyond (or below) their conscious activities; (3) in this theoretical perspective, the “human action” is the assembled process that continues affecting or being affected, instead of being the only cause of social events; (4) thereupon, in this assembled process, all kinds of non-human actors, including the touchscreen of a mobile phone, the memory of the mobile phone system, the user interface of Instagram, the internal database of Instagram, the algorithms, etc., become users in every interaction; (5) at last, we argue in the post-human condition that all kinds of activities and relationships, which engender our emotions and feelings, are the complicated assembled process involving human and non-human actors.

This research therefore “re-assembles” the connection and activities of the depressed Instagram users. Through this, the heterogeneously assembled process will be dismantled and unfolded. From the perspective of the new materialism, Instagram is not just a tool or medium, and the users are also not individualized subjects whose feelings and emotions are engendered inside. Instagram, as an assembled digital object, can act. More clearly, the Instagram users, mobile phones, and Instagram itself are assembled to affect and be affected with each other. This research argues that, by exploring the practices of depressed people on Instagram, we are able to illustrate how emotions and actions are engendered in the interacting process of the (affected) user, mobile phone, Instagram, and other users. Hence, we can understand how these engendered emotions and actions affect other members further.

This research also argues that the actions and experiences of depressed people on Instagram are not unique. On the contrary, those are also every “normal” person’s actual daily life in the post-human condition. “We” could have various kinds of “self”-feelings only after the interacting and articulating process - for example, clicking the Instagram App, recalling a memory by choosing a photo, forming a feeling gradually while retouching the photo, confirming an emotion by adding and deleting the text, being affected by the “like”, etc.

Finally, this research suggests that we could go further to explore other aspects of our changing world from the perspective of the new materialism. This research can only discuss the experiences of depressed users on Instagram in a limited length. What we face today are actually more kinds of changes brought by technological development, and they are gradually revealing our post-human condition.
2022/ 冬