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The Russet Clan by Mitchell Tang

The Russet Clan is a project which explores the internet and online culture in the context of social networking and the forced timeline linearity in social media metadata. The project uses elements, tropes, and devices of television sitcoms, focusing on the social media accounts of the Russet family. Through cultivation of the Russets’ online presence, the intent is to establish characters that breach the uncanny valley; social media platforms allow for the creation of distinct online personas separate from physical ones – conversely, the Russets are a purely virtual family that is able to come to life because of such a distinction. The project is beginning as an Instagram project, with the goal of potential expansion to other social media platforms (ie. Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat etc.)

The exponential nature of internet virality is integral to the project; the more people that follow the family, the more real the characters seem. Immersion into the life of the Russets is critical. Just as sitcoms engage viewers through lighthearted comedy, this family of characters – through their social media accounts – does the same. The difference is the medium. Where a standard 30-minute sitcom has the flexibility of jumping back and forth in timeline, social media is for the most part linearly restricted.

Although users can post older photos or recall past events, the timestamping of posts in the form of metadata always maintains a one-to-one relationship with the viewer. What, where, and when the family posts, and what, where, and when viewers see these posts will always occur in the present. Social media platforms also encourage frequent consumption; the sharing of one’s own life and the following of others’ motivates consistent use, so the story arc of the Russet family is able to take place on the same timeline as the viewer’s. Traditional media consumption formats allow for very large time jumps to occur. In the Instagram format, although each post is sequential, plot does not unfold episodically; rather, consistent posts enforce fluidly moving events displayed in snapshots. Ideally, the similarity in the family’s actions and online persona(s) will help followers see the animated characters in the virtual environment in the same way they would see friends or favourite media personalities

Conceptually, the sitcom format and its tropes act as metadata for the account. A follower may or may not be aware that the project is re-using sitcom narrative devices, yet they are integral and ever-present. In real-time, the family is narrating their life for their audience on the internet. In the future, the project should expand to individual family member accounts on social media, to allow the characters to also interact with one another online, furthering the perception of reality.