This week, reading about Automediality, I asked myself the question, “Who are we?” It’s a question almost as old as time itself. Einstein first linked time with space in 1915 when he formulated his Theory of General Relativity; defining the two as inextricably linked forever and more correctly termed “spacetime”.

Digital identities or personas have a place in spacetime. It’s not a tangible, touchable place or space, but it’s a legitimate place nonetheless and becoming more so by the day. So how do we get to know a person online?

In games such as Second Life, users choose an avatar to visually represent themselves. The same is true of all social media. The difference between face-to-face and digital personas comes down to image control. We have exclusive rights to our own images, even if someone else wants to post a picture of us, we have the power to approve it or not. It’s a level of curatorship we don’t have over our physical lives. In the physical world, we can’t enter the room for a job interview and then review the footage and go again if we didn’t like the impression we made the first time, adjusting the room to get our good side or rearranging our greeting to sound more pleasant or more intelligent. In the digital world, we can take 400+ selfies and choose the one we like the best. The one which represents the way in which we want to be seen by others. We can then crop it and run filters over it until it represents us. But is it really us? Or is it our digital persona?

Digital personas are just that, personas. They are images, videos, sounds and written reflections of an idea of us. They are ‘other’ and the subject of other, of personas and digital identities links with another subject which I have studied at length over the past few years; fame. Or more specifically, the effect that fame can have on a person’s psyche. Because creating personas we’re actually doing exactly what famous people do and, perhaps surprising to those who seek fame’s sparkling lights, it’s not good for you. So by automediating our lives are we setting ourselves up for failures of the famous kind?

In the study, “Being a Celebrity: A Phenomenology of Fame”, researchers Donna Rockwell and David Giles discovered that “In relation to self, being famous leads to loss of privacy, entitization, demanding expectations, gratification of ego needs, and symbolic immortality.”

Perhaps the question “who are we?” then becomes “who are we online?” And if it’s not possible to ever really know a person face-to-face then how can we ever know a person’s persona? Or is that the entire point?


Giles, David and Rockwell, Donna. “Being a Celebrity: A Phenomenology of Fame” Journal of Phenomenological Psychology. Online. 2009.

General relativity explained in under three minutes. Bromberg, Eric and Oliveres, Jordi, Producers. YouTube. 2015. 

What Exactly is Spacetime? Explained in Ridiculously Simple Words. Science ABC.

YouTube, 4 Oct, 2021.

Art as Propaganda in the Digital Age

After reading Walter Benjamin’s 1935 essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction I found myself particularity thinking of the use and evolution of art as propaganda.

In his 1935 essay, Benjamin discusses the relationship between art and Fascism, stating the “logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life”. He further states “all efforts to render politics aesthetic culminate in one thing: war. This is a chilling statement, remembering that his essay was written in 1935 – four years before the onset of the Second World War. Before Hitler’s propaganda machine went into full swing, but not before Mussolini’s.

Shorthand typist at the centre of Hitler’s propaganda office, Brunhilde Pomsel said in an interview shortly before her death aged 106 “Those people nowadays who say they would have stood up against the Nazis – I believe they are sincere in meaning that, but believe me, most of them wouldn’t have.” After the rise of the Nazi party, “the whole country was as if under a kind of a spell,” she insists.

Hitler’s ally, Mussolini also took full use of images, films and photographs to tell a story. To package and market Italy as the new Roman Empire and Mussolini as the new Caesar. It’s important to point out, though, that the German and Italian regimes weren’t the only ones taking advantages of propaganda, The U.S. and U.K also had successful programs.

Further chilling too, as I continued to read Benjamin’s essay, I was reminded of a story I had heard once about the leader of North Korea’s propaganda machine and the kidnapping of an actress and her director husband from South Korea.

Described as a socialist state and a totalitarian dictatorship, North Korea has been ruled by the Worker’s Party of Korea since 1948. North Korea’s Supreme Leader today is Kim Jong un and the position of Supreme Leader has been hereditary since his Grandfather, Kim Il Sung lead the country out of Japanese occupation in 1945.

In 1978, Kim Il sung’s son, Kim Jong-il had been so successful as the head of North Korea’s Propaganda and Agitation Department that he had helped his father to achieve almost god-like status. Films, posters and an unprecedented statue building schedule had helped him, but something was missing. An avid cinema fan, by the 1970s he was director of the Motion Picture and Arts division of the PAD and directing films himself, but Kim Jong-il believed he could go further, ingratiate himself into his father’s graces even more. He could continue to build his father’s status by putting North Korean cinema on the map – by abducting South Korea’s most famous and successful film making team. Actress Choi Eun-hee and her director husband Shin Song-ok. So, in 1978, he did just that. Taking the couple from their lives in South Korea – and their children – Kim Jong-il demanded the couple make films in his father’s favour.

From 1978 – 1986 Choi and Shin made 7 films to make Kim Jong-il happy (to make his father proud and to show him he could be a worthy leader upon his death), to make South Korea jealous and to gain international attention. They did just that and while attending a film festival in Vienna, they escaped in 1986.

The North Korean incident occurred in the 1980s, some fifty years after his writing and I wondered what Benjamin would have made of it. What would he have made of the advances in technology? Would he have been surprised or not? Would he have felt more positive about the further modernisation of art and its various applications? Digital photography and the transition of photographs and films from their negative and print forms to digital data which can then be manipulated. Almost any kind of art work can now be produced or reproduced digitally, even an original painting with the right software. Somehow I struggle to think he would. Sadly, as he passed in 1940, we’ll never know, but I think he definitely could have added the North Korean example as an exclamation point to his essay.


Benjamin, W. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Illuminations. Editor Hannah Arendt. Schocken Books, 1969

Connolly, Kate. Joseph Goebbels’ 105-year-old secretary: ’No one believes me now, but I knew nothing’. The Guardian. 16 August, 2016. Online.

Holt, Nick, Clifton, Dan and Finney, Ben. Inside North Korea’s Dynasty. 2018.

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