A reflection on profile photos

The most popular NFTs are ones that are classified as profile picture (PFP) collections (Bored Ape Yacht Club, CryptoPunks, World of Women, Doodles). For many holders of these NFTs, having the artwork be your profile photo across traditional social platforms has become a norm (Twitter & Discord especially).

I don’t think I ever really thought about my profile photo until I started buying PFP NFTs. In this article, I walk through my reflection on who a profile photo is really for and how I am starting to think about my digital identity moving forward.

For people that I know incredibly well (family and closest friends), no amount of digital identity transformation they make will impact the way I view them. My mental model for these people are almost strictly determined by our physical experiences and go far beyond any profile photo or post.

However, for people that I know less well, or have never met in person, my mental model is subconsciously or consciously influenced by the digital identity they have provided to me via social platforms.

Profile photos are really a way to digitally represent part of your digital identity for people you don’t know that well. Why is this? Our identity is purely symbolic. If I say I am honest it means way less than being recognized as being honest by someone else. We obsess over the image that others entertain of ourselves because we can not control it, even though we are the only ones concerned with our identity (simply put as insecurity). This feeling applies more closely to people we know less well as we have less confidence in what this subgroup’s image of ourselves are. As for our family and closest friends, we can anticipate more accurately how they view us individually.

Now it’s established that our digital identities are more relevant to people we know less well, how does that impact the decision on the type of profile photo I select? Upon reflection and going through people’s profile photos, I do not think I inherently make any assumptions about someones identity based on their Instagram / Twitter profile. However, I do think I am subconsciously cataloguing a library of people’s names and profile photos and when I think about messaging someone, I do reference their profile photo in my head.

When I think about how I want people I know less well to think of me (mostly subconsciously), I want it to be in the most imaginative, not assumptive way possible. I want people to create their own mental model of who I am without providing any data to them such that they focus on my content and not any initial assumptions they make (this is more applicable for Twitter than Instagram).

The best way to have someone think more imaginatively is to provide them with less information. For me, that means having a profile photo as a colour. I suppose a truly imaginative profile would be one that is not existant, and having a colour could assume something about me, but this level imagination is one that I am excited about. I think this change is very subtle to most people but adds tremendous compounding value long-term in places where you are releasing content.

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