Tuesday, July 10, 2012

You Oughta Be In Pictures

One of the primary communication tools that PCVs in Armenia (and probably other countries) use is Facebook.  We all have cel phones, the office in Yerevan sends out regular updates on things via email, but if you want to know what your fellow volunteers are up to, you need to look at Facebook regularly.

For Armenians, though, Facebook is relatively recent.  A similar Russian site (Odnoklassniki - meaning "classmates") is the primary site people use, but since it is all in Russian I haven't.  Facebook's popularity is growing rapidly, though, and it is following the same path that it did in the US at first - and that means people seem to want to add friends, even if they don't know them well (or at all).

As a result, I get a lot of friend requests from people I don't remember, but whom I met at some point.  As I have written before, I am easily remembered for not being an Armenian and many people here have the same name so I don't always know which Armine or Hovhannes is sending me a friend request.  Since I am the only John Kelly in Armenia (at least of people on Facebook) I am really easier to find than if I was one of the myriad Gagik Grigoryans (do a search for that name if you don't believe me). The most confusing is a friend request from someone who uses a made up name and has a cartoon angel for a profile picture and all other pictures hidden from non-friends.  I once got chastised from one of those people for not accepting her friend request....call me crazy.

Most times when I have accepted a friend request, I log in a day later to find that I have dozens of notifications.  As I scroll through them, they are all about my new friend liking one of my photos or photo albums and/or commenting on them.  [Someone mentioned to me that this is because of how Odnoklassniki is set up in that the site asks you to rate people's pictures when you view them.] Considering that I have a lot of pictured posted on Facebook, there can be quite a few of those notifications.  Another Armenian with whom I am Facebook friends (who is also connected to a number of other volunteers) spent a lot of time going through our pictures and tagging herself.

But once you are connected, it is interesting to see the pictures that they post on their own profiles. 

First, there is the sheer volume. I think this is a world-wide issue caused by the ease of uploading from a memory card, but there seems to be no editing of what is uploaded.  It is not uncommon to see 100 or more pictures from one party/wedding/day in the park/conference, with many that are out of focus, odd shots of floors or ceilings or repetitive group shots.

It is also pretty common to see someone post a whole group of shots of herself (some guys do this also, but it is mostly the girls) that she had someone take of her - in the park, in the square, near the lake - a sort of a mini-portfolio. Similar to the way people dress, a lot of the pictures can be kindly described as "provocative".

Maybe as evidence of budding Photoshop skills, some of these pictures then get put into rather creative backgrounds.

And then there are the group shots. Armenia is a very social society and there are a lot of youth groups - whether for social purposes, for training of some sort, for church gatherings - and when the groups get together, pictures are always on the agenda.  Beside the mandatory get-everyone-in-the-picture group photos, there are four other distinct categories that I see posted often:

The Circle from Below
The Circle from Above
The Hand Circle
...and my favorite, The Shoe Circle
These are normally tagged to show whose hands or feet are in the picture. I don't really get it, so maybe I am missing something.   

Another common posting is pictures with no caption, but with various friends tagged.  Many of these are pictures of floral bouquets such as this one, which had about 20 people tagged in it.

These are especially common around Valentine's Day, Women's Day and other holidays, but sometimes a girl just wants to let her friends know she is thinking about them.

The pictures on Facebook also highlight something I find remarkable.  We have a running joke about the stoic Soviet era non-smile that you see in a lot of "official" pictures, school photos, wedding photos and just in general around people's homes.  But in the pictures on Facebook, people are usually smiling.  I first thought it was a generational thing, but some of the Armenians I have friended are adults - and they have smiling pictures also. 

Another victory for social media. Say "cheese".