I just made two new friends on Facebook. They are a married couple, whom I’ve known for awhile. And as I was looking at their profile pages, I thought it was interesting to see which photographs each individual had chosen to represent themselves within the Facebook world. The man had selected a photograph of him and his wife together, with the wife standing in the foreground and himself standing behind her. And the woman was represented by a photograph of herself with her father (not with her husband), leaning her head on the elderly gentleman’s shoulder. And I thought it was so insightful — so aligned with what I know of them, personally — that they would select these particular pictures of themselves, to broadcast themselves to the world around them: him standing behind his wife, letting her be the most visible part of him — and her choosing to go with a picture of her beloved and aged father, standing in the old family farmhouse.
Without going into too much psychological analysis about this particular couple, I started to wonder if there might be something significant about the images with which we choose to represent ourselves to the outside world, particularly as it relates to Facebook profile pictures. My wife, for instance, is represented by a picture of our whole family laughing together — which, obviously, seems very much in keeping with her life priorities these days… My friend Eva has a picture of her playing a guitar on-stage — which fits very appropriately with the fact that she’s currently trying to develop herself as a musician and put herself and her music out there for a wider public… My friend Marco uses an artistic, angled black-and-white portrait of himself for his profile picture — which, again, matches up with the fact that he’s currently launching his own photography business… I could seriously go on and on with these types of analyses. Some use pictures of kids, or sports teams, or strategic scenery — but they very often (though not always) seem to say something interesting about the person whom they are meant to represent.
I would suggest that there really might be a direct correlation between a person’s Facebook profile picture and his or her (either momentary or long-term) values and priorities.
So what does my Facebook profile picture say about me?
If I were to analyze (or perhaps “over-analyze” — as is always the danger, in an exercise like this) my own profile picture, I might say: “Here is a guy who’s a bit of a loner. Kind of a serious person. He tends toward introspection, given the fact that he’s just kind of looking off into space, watching a sunset by himself. His heart is stuck in the farmlands of Ohio (even though he’s been living in Amsterdam for the last 7 years). He longs for open space in his life. He has an unusual affinity for the color brown, which is kind of a natural, down-to-earth, neutral color. He is someone who is consistent though perhaps slow to change (given the fact that he’s stuck with the same profile picture for about three years now).” And to be honest, I don’t know if I would be able to fault such an analysis of my own profile picture! I’m not completely sure that I like everything that my profile picture says about me, but I couldn’t really argue against it…
When looking at a Facebook profile picture, trying to analyze any potential meaning that may (or may not) be there, it seems to me that these are perhaps the most strategic questions:
- With whom are you pictured (or not pictured)?
- What is your relationship to any other people who might be pictured with you?
- What might be significant about the spatial relationships within the picture?
- Where was the picture taken (i.e. what geographic location)?
- What else can be seen in the background of the photograph?
- How often is the profile picture changed?
So what do you think? Is this total psycho-babble crap? Or could there really be something here? Please forgive me, if I’ve offended you or made you unnecessarily self-conscious about what kind of picture you’ve posted for yourself on Facebook. But this kind of thing is absolutely fascinating to me… I’m sure there are studies along these lines that are already out there. But without doing any of the research myself, I’m still very curious to consider the implications of our Facebook profile pictures.