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4 December 2017 | Draft

Interfacer for Reduction of Discrimination and Harassment

Recovering personal control of visual proximity through virtual reality

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Discrimination reframed by virtual reality
Using avatar design techniques to reframe those encountered
Extension of the Interfacer facility to voice
Harassment reframed by virtual reality?
Personal experience of a collective environment
Human rights and human responsibilities?
Distributive interactive use of Interfacer?
Use of Interfacer to project an image


A range of highly controversial issues can be understood as associated with enforced visual exposure to people of distinctive colour, physiognomy, dress, hair style, and the like. This is evident with respect to discrimination by gender (and otherwise), fashions, multiculturalism, immigration, and sexual harassment. There is a case for recognizing the opportunities offered by virtual reality in this regard, now that widespread release of virtual reality headsets and smartglasses is expected within a year or so, if not in the coming months. The technology is predicted to develop very rapidly thereafter and will naturally be integrated into the so-called internet of things.

The argument here is that such glasses could allow people to reconfigure the visual aspects of those with whom they are confronted -- modifying colour, physiognomy, and dress. Hence use of Interfacer -- as the proposed name for such a device -- beyond the currently constrained functionality of Facebook and Skype, for example. Such recovery of control is already evident to a degree in the use of variously tinted glasses, protective masks (against air pollution, germs), and headphones (to reconfigure the soundscape to which people prefer to be attentive). Virtual reality glasses will be able to perform an equivalent function with respect to the visual environment beyond their foreseen use in exposing people to advertising messages relevant to a local physical environment through which the the user is passing -- itself a form of increased harassment, unless blocked.

The concern here is whether such an application can be adapted to respond usefully to the visual dimension of interpersonal harassment and discrimination -- the challenge of "in your face" confrontation. A variant of the technology could well be developed for use with personal computers, tablets, smartphones, and applications like Skype -- as well as for TV reception. In all these cases the concern is whether the viewer can recover control of the style of the presenter in an environment in which policy increasingly imposes choices which may be far from those preferred.

Just as a viewer is free to change channels, the viewer could be enabled to change the colour, dress, voice, and physical aspects of any presenter or discussant. Such an approach introduces an extra degree of freedom into an increasingly charged complex of policy constraints. The viewer is freed from whatever is perceived as an irritating imposition and the broadcaster is free to make a wider choice of presenters -- knowing that viewers will reconfigure them according to their preference. Aspects of these possibilities are already evident in web design and the options for personalization of the browsing experience by the user.

The need for Interfacer is also evident in relation to the emergence of humanoid robots foreseen for the immediate future as performing a variety of service tasks requiring interaction with people, and possibly enabling a strange form of revolution (Forthcoming Major Revolution in Global Dialogue: challenging new world order of interactive communication, 2013). This revolution has been heralded by the distribtion of intelligent personal assitants such as Amazon's Alexa and Apple's Siri. However, rather than depending on any particular skilled design of the robot to offer a greater semblance of humanity (constrained by colour, facial features, and the like), people interacting with such robots via virtual reality could clothe and configure them according to preference. This reduces the challenge for the designers of robots -- or the human-machine interface -- in endeavouring to please the maximum number of people with whom the robot is expected to interact agreeably. Many would obviously be alienated by whatever compromise design choice is made for all.

Some dimensions of the challenge of reconfiguring or reinventing another have already been addressed. The marketing of clothes can already be facilitated by providing a simulation of the client wearing a potential clothing choice. The images of the client and the dress are then merged by software. This approach is extended to some degree to hairstyles and to the potential consequences of cosmetic surgery. Especially intriguing is the design of avatars for use in virtual worlds -- a process which can already be explored on the web.

The basic argument for Interfacer is that it reinforces the recognition that triggers for discrimination and harassment are "in the eyes of the beholder". Enabling the user to reframe what is seen offers a means of avoiding such triggers and recovering a higher degree of personal control of the encounter with others -- possibly to be caricatured as providing a set of "high-tech blinkers". More succinctly, Interfacer offers a means of "internalizing" discrimination -- rendering subjective -- otherwise experienced as harassment by others through its projection onto them. Ironically, through virtual reality, discrimination could then be said to be "virtualized".

Expressed otherwise, people have to recover the right to reframe those encountered. They may well have to take responsibility for doing so in an environment characterized by increasingly fake imagery complementing fake news.

Discrimination reframed by virtual reality

Features and form: As suggested above, the tendency to discriminate on the basis of prejudices, recognized or otherwise, is reduced when people are able to view each other through what are effectively "rose tinted glasses". The features held to be offensive to any degree can be "redacted" from reality through the superimposition of preferred alternatives. Black skin colour can be substituted for white and white for black, as an extreme example of considerable concern to some. The face can be reconfigured into conformity with preferred norms -- as may currently be done with cosmetic surgery for oneself. Body shape might also be reconfigured for those offended by extreme obesity or the reverse.

Especially intriguing is the sense in which features could be reformed into those of archetypal beauty, however this is conceived, perhaps drawing on models in an online databases to affect the most meaningfully "fit". However the reverse could also be explored, namely the adaptation of the features to those of archetypal ugliness -- consonant with a preferred reaction to an environment.

An intriguing preference might be to reduce the age of those encountered by a decade or more -- or to increase it.

Of similar interest is the ability to switch to imposition of iconic imagery, from politics, religion, movies, or the like -- whether idealized or deprecated. Donald Trump or Kim Jong-un as news announcer? Or the Angel Gabriel? Or Zeus? Or an extraterrestrial?

Dress styles: These can be shifted from irritating formality to preferred formality, or the reverse. This is potentially of great relevance to the controversies surrounding dress codes imposed by religions, most notably the burkha and the niqab. Clearly, through virtual reality, western preferences could be superimposed on wearers of the latter. In Islamic contexts, women wearing western styles could have them replaced by the burqa or niqab -- in the eyes of those using virtual reality glasses. In both cases this offers a response to the strongly articulated concerns of either western norms or Islamic religious norms.

The same could be applied in other environments where dress codes are a matter of concern and controversy -- as in some Jewish and Hindu contexts. Fundamentalists of all faiths might well find reason to sponsor the facility as a means of reclothing people encountered into more acceptable devotional habits, or national dress.

For those favourably influenced by fashion, the facility offers the possibility of reclothing all those encountered in the latest fashions -- exploiting an online fashion data base -- as a means of rendering the environment less "drab". The contrary might be preferred by those who favor simple living and its preference for "plain clothing".

It is of course the case that some may opt for selectively "unclothing" those they view -- rather than "reclothing" them . This technology is already in evidence in security screening facilities. Of course "undressing" another is a process in which many already engage imaginatively -- without the aid of any technology or fear of being accused of harassment

Symbols and patterns: Given the developing capacity of pattern recognition software, wearers of particular symbols considered offensive by the viewer could have them "reshaped" -- from a Cross to a Star of David, from a Swastika to a Zodiac, etc.

For some Interfacer would offer the opportunity to add pendants of their choice to those they encounter, for the pleasure of experiencing all they encounter as converted to a faith of their choice.

Enhancements: As implied by the reference to cosmetic surgery, much can be enabled for the viewer of others with respect to "enhancements" to the face, to the form of the body, to the quantity of hair and its style. Clearly this could allow users to equip those viewed with larger breasts, muscles, or other attributes, including the addition or removal of beards, tattoos and piercings. The elderly might well be relieved to make use of Interfacer in order to perceive their younger relatives unadorned with recent fashionable enhancements -- especially tattoos, piercings and neckware.

Where such adornments are of particular significance to the viewer, as with the addition of symbols, they could be used to reinforce a sense that all encountered are of a similar faith. This is potentially of particular relevance to indigenous cultures, such as the Polynesian. Facial and body tattoos are then indicative of much-valued community roles, as with the Maori Ta moko.

The controversial historical fashion of the codpiece is an opportunity to be borne in mind whether for men or for women. This suggests that Interfacer could be used to anticipate the experience of future fashion styles (however extreme), as well as those of the past.

Gender and transgender transformations: The capacity for modification may also be applied to features characteristic of gender. Viewers might therefore choose to switch the gender of some they encounter -- or to remodel them as gender neutral. Clearly this facility would also enable enhancement of gay or lesbian attributes and signifiers.

Non-human form? The range of movies and video games, now offering aliens in a wide variety of forms, recalls the extent to which online virtual worlds already enable humans to adopt avatars of animal form. This would clearly suggest the capacity to use Interfacer to transform humans encountered into non-human form in daily life. News announcers, whether humans or humanoid robots, could be reframed in this way for those preferring an alternative experience -- as might well be considered their fundamental right.

For those anticipating the arrival of extraterrestrials, and concerned at the challenges of discrimination, Interfacer would provide a precautionary facility to enable the reconfiguration of potentially horrifying (or abhorrent) features into more acceptable humanoid form. ETs may themselves find humans visually repulsive and be obliged to use their own variant of Interfacer. More intriguing is the possibility that either humans or ETs would find the form of the other to be attractive beyond imagining -- to the extent of requiring such "shielding" from exposure to each other.

Such use could already be explored in relation to pets and companion animals -- developing the possibility for new bonds with them, now that the politics of same-sex marriage are being resolved (Marrying an Other whatever the Form: reframing and extending the understanding of marriage, 2013).

Dynamic reframing: A further possibility offered by Interfacer would be to reframe dynamically those encountered -- over shorter or longer periods of time -- in response to feedback from the encounter as experienced in the moment. This recalls the extensive development of image morphing applications to show how a person might have looked differently when younger, and how they might age. It also extends the existing dynamics of human experience -- facial expression -- to encompass shapeshifting.

Ad blocking on media: Clearly forced exposure to unwelcome advertisements on TV or other media is experienced as a form of harassment for which ad blocking software is widely available -- operating with a variety of constraints however. The manner of dress, intended as a means of rendering the person atractive, may also be understood as a form of advertisment -- on which the advertising industry is especially focused, as with cosmetics, perfumes, fashions, etc, This constutes a form of complicity in the process of harssment, as argued separately (Promoting ostentatious inequality: dubious complicity in an unmentionable game of unquestionable dimensions? 2017).

A more sophisticated means of blocking any form of advertising is offfered by Interfacer, whether from the media or as experienced in the encounter with another person. This would function irrespective of any constraints associated with ad blocking software and the detection of its use by websites. However, as with use of such software, the welcome attractiveness offred in some encounters could be allowed rather than blocked.

Using avatar design techniques to reframe those encountered

Personal use of cosmetics, hair styling and "dressing up" can already be a major element in preparing for a specific encounter -- and "looking good" for any encountered at an event or in public more generally. Through use of Interfacer the delegation of this responsibility to others is reversed. As with the use of tinted glasses, with Interfacer one acquires the right to see people otherwise -- as would be even more the case if the glasses had distorting lenses. The challenge is to make use of emerging technologies to frame others as one wishes to experience them. Rather than reinventing oneself, which continues to be a right, one arrogates to oneself the right to reinvent others.

As noted above there is now considerable experience of avatar design for use in online virtual environments, with a variety of facilities readily available as indicated by the following for "virtual reality". Interfacer suggests the need to design an avatar for projection onto others encountered, rather than designing an avatar of the participant in virtual reality for perception by others. Rather than "virtual reality", this implies use of a related technique termed augmented reality or, more generally, computer-mediated reality.

Resources include:

Less evident is the distinction between an "avatar" designed as a 2D logo (possibly for a menu bar), one used in chat sessions (as a screen image, however enhanced)|, one used in a virtual world, and that required for Interfacer -- possibly better understood in terms of "augmented reality".

Adding hands and facial expressions makes virtual reality a much more intimate medium (Ben Popper, This is how Facebook will animate you in VR, The Verge, 6 October 2016). There is however considerable experience in the design of "avatars" for social media exchanges, most notably Skype, although it is less evident whether an option is offered to replace the avatar selected by the other by one selected by the viewer (although see Changing a users profile picture, Geeks Hangout, 23 August 2016):

As an example, use was made of the online facility FaceMaker to produce a set of faces, then incorporated into a simple animation below. The facility is indicated as based on the European average face, enabling a virtual game character to be designed in real time. Users decide on the facial para maters of an avatar, hero, or villain. The avatar can be saved, rendered, and shared as a 3D model. This program is part of an interdisciplinary research project of the Stuttgart Media University and University of Stuttgart. It has a particular preoccupation with the so-called uncanny valley phenomenon of relevance to any discussion of Interfacer. This suggests that humanoid objects which appear almost, but not exactly, like real human beings elicit uncanny, or strangely familiar, feelings of eeriness and revulsion in observers.

FaceMaker: Generate your favourite avatar
produced by Valentin Schwind (Hochschule der Medien, University of Stuttgart)
Design options (left panel) Simple animation indicative of variety
of "repulsive face" designs in 3D
Design options (right panel)
Facemaker options  -- left panel Facemaker options  -- right panel

The image above recalls the facilities of Photoshop to modify any image, notably by changing colours, stretching shapes and removing blemishes. Operation of a digital camera such adaptations to a far smaller degree. As it may develop, Interfacer can be thought of as providing proactive response to people encounterd. The modifications may of course be constrained by general preferences for skin colour (healthy tan, etc) and facial form. As with Photoshop, these may be applied to the underlying "reality layer" with varying degrees of transparency -- from minimal to complete. As with the proactive response of polarized sunglasses to ultraviolet sunglight, Interfacer may develop such as to increase its "polarization" in response to detection of unwelcome imagery deemed by the user to be a form of harassment.

Extension of the Interfacer facility to voice

As noted above, people already make extensive use of headphones and earphones to modify the soundscape to which they are exposed. They may do this even when seated together with others in a group. The preferred sound input may be music, news, audio books, or learning programs. The devices may also be used to record conversations. Those who are hard of hearing may use them to provide amplification of conversations. Facilities are already developed to enable simultaneous interpretation from another language.

Clearly this modality could be extended with Interfacer to include the modification of irritating tones and accents to those which the hearer finds more congenial -- and more consistent with any complementary visual reframing. The possibility is similar to the features offered by some GPS systems providing driving guidance -- with a choice of languages and accents. In the light of current development of simultaneous interpretation in conferences and media broadcasts, there is further inspiration from the manner in which the interpreter may well add or remove elements from what the speaker in fact said. Similarly Interfacer could be used to add "interesting" content to what is then heard -- including humour -- and to remove "uninteresting" content.

Given the preference of some for frequent use of expletives (notably as a guarantee of authenticity in movie discourse), similar additions could be made to the declarations of those encountered. At the other extreme, the additions could take the form of some form of invocation of divine blessing, as is characteristic of some languages and faiths where such invocation renders discourse more acceptable.

The obvious uses of the facility could be combined with respect to public broadcasting and news announcements -- especially those intended for audiences worldwide with a wide variety of cultural preferences. The point to be made is that the choice could either be one associated with the broadcast channel (possibly the local service provider) or by the individual making personal use of the Interfacer application -- rather than being dependent on the choices offered by the broadcaster in their integration of that application. The matter is of current relevance to controversial introduction of Maori words into public broadcasting in English (New Zealand broadcasters refuse to stop using Maori words, The Guardian, 28 November 2017). Listeners via Interfacer could readily increase the proprotion of such additions.

Also of interest is the possibility of modifying the tone -- increasing or decreasing the level of courtesy, arrogance, agreeableness, unctuousness, negativity, obsequiousness, indirectness, and the like. This would follow from current applications detecting levels of emotion in conversations -- typically for security purposes. It is to be expected that humanoid robots would be designed to change their tone in response to that of those with whom they deal.

Resources for speech synthesis already include:

Harassment reframed by virtual reality?

Of obvious concern is how these facilities could be understood as reducing harassment -- if only in its visual form. A clue is already provided by the wearing of sunglasses which restrict eye contact as a potential trigger for other forms of harassment.

Clearly remodelling the facial, colour and other characteristics of those encountered may alleviate the sense of being harassed by having any displayed "in one's face" whenever that experience is unwelcome. Aside from tendencies to racism, this applies as much to sensitivity to characteristics deplored as ageism, youthism, sizeism, and the like -- including "facism" (Facism as Superficial Intercultural Extremism, 2009).

Whether influenced by religious strictures or not, men may experience themselves as harassed by challenging exposure of regions of the body (notably the breasts or leg of women in western cultures), This would be alleviated by use of "reclothing" through virtual reality facilities. Such facilities then constitute an ironic counterpart to the high degree of religious clothing considered objectionable by some.

For women, harassed by the physical experience of "overpowering" men, reframing them as "midgets" clearly offers a psychological advantage -- perhaps to be understood as protective "reverse discrimination". For the height-challenged, however, reducing taller people to a tolerable height would reduce the experience of harassment, as would the reverse for the very tall. Use of Interfacer by women could also alleviate the offence occasioned by "elevator eye" movement, or any other undue focus on regions of the body by which the other person is provoked. It offers one response to "manspreading".

Women could well feel less harassed if their degree of body exposure was not constrained by men arguing that such exposure constituted a flaunting provocation. Use of Interfacer by men then offers women a greater degree of freedom -- enabling them to argue that men should "change their settings" on Interfacer (better to function as "high-tech blinkers").

Arguably the capacity to reframe others in this way is a means of reducing the harassment associated with exposure to inequality of any kind -- especially that to which little effective response is possible. Examples to be considered include exposure to those of extreme deformity, disability or poverty. For many disadvantaged in this way it would then be a relief to be seen otherwise in a more favourable light.

Personal experience of a collective environment

A viewer enabled by Interfacer could transform gatherings of people -- groups, conferences and crowds -- in a variety of ways, as is already the case in video games and online worlds. This would offer the possibility of rendering such encounters far more interesting, especially if the transformations can be changed dynamically in response to circumstances and the shifting moods of people.

Interfacer could then be understood as functioning as a form of psychosocial exoskeleton of relevance to the concerns explored by proxemics with respect to personal boundaries, comfort zones and the invasion of personal space (Joe Navarro, Why We Hate It When People Invade Our Space, Psychology Today, 27 February 2015; Molly Tappin, Getting Annoyed By People Invading Your Personal Space Is A Genuine Psychological Problem, Viral Thread, 10 February 2016). With respect to perception of distance, Interfacer could "reposition" people at a more acceptable distance -- much as can be done using camera focusing.

Groups: Clearly any group of people, whether a board meeting or a gathering in a cafe, could then be experienced in ways which emphasize any of the following:

Given the current importance of medal display by people on formal occsions, the user of Interfacer could "redact" them if experienced as a form of harassment. However, following Edward de Bono's suggestion with respect to value medals, a set of medals and other insignia could be added to those present at any gathering. These might usefully include the user's symbolic indications of involvement in highly problematic activity, or extended to other options as considered separately (Quantum Wampum Essential to Navigating Ragnarok, 2014). The possibilities suggest the mergence of a form of "virtual heraldry", if only for the eyes of the beholder. It recalls to some degree the manner in which rewards are signified in online games.

Conferences: Irrespective of a panel session at a conference (where the above distinctions might be applied between panel participants), also of interest is the manner in which the audience, or a particular participant, might be reframed in the speakers eyes. The process could be extended to networking experiences between conference sessions, over coffee, or at receptions.

Educators could well benefit from use of Interfacer when confronted by a class by which they may be visually harassed in some cultures. Onthe other hand those exposed to tedious political speeches and religious sermons could well benefit of Interfacer with its voice extension -- perhaps offering the ability to transform speech into song.

Movement of people in public: Those encountered on the sidewalk or in public transportation could be similarly reframed to enhance quality of life as experienced.

Indigenous peoples: The interface between indigenous peoples and the dominant culture has long been highly problematic. There is a case for exploring the use of Interfacer to reduce the difficulties variously acknowledged.

Socially challenged: Sunglasses may already be worn for psychosocial protection by those nervous about the experience of others in public. Interfacer would necessarily offer a much higher order of protection enabling the nervous to engage more comfortably with environments they currently experience as fearful. The application could reframe those they encounter such as to present a friendly or respectful face rather than the contrary.

Reframing the deprived and diminished: The experience of the deprived may be so challenging that it is carefully avoided -- as with encountering the impoverished, the handicapped, the senile, and the like. It may be considered necessary to protect children and the sensitivie from such experience. Through Interfacer those in such environments can be reframed into a more acceptable condition thereby enabling a degree of encounter which would not otherwise occur. The challenge tends to be especially relevant for those whose relatives are institutionalized in "homes". Those in the homes may at present experience stress at "being seen like this" by their visitors -- tragically to be recognized as a form of "visitor harassment".

Human rights and human responsibilities?

As is evident from a degree of acceptance of the right to dress as one chooses, and of the responsibility to dress such as to conform (to some degree) to the expectation of others, use of Interfacer can be seen as an extension or interpretation of both. It avoids any offence resulting from questionable imposition of rights and responsibilities by making the reframing chosen a private matter for the viewer -- conforming to the principles of freedom of opinion.

The individual is then free to reframe others without publicly calling into question their religious, ethnic, racial, or cultural values -- or their identity in a manner which would otherwise cause offence. Everyone encountered by the viewer could be reframed to conform to an image of "people like us".

Use of Interfacer does raise the interesting question of how the identity of a person is associated with the manner in which that person is perceived by others -- if that perception is private rather than publicly obvious. Does the experience of identity bear a degree of resemblance to a game of bluff -- a poker game -- and is this enhanced by use of Interfacer?

Clearly the conventional use of clothes and cosmetics, enhanced with status symbols of various kinds, can be seen as the elements of bluff through which the person reinvents themself. The "real" person can be understood as hidden behind these externalities -- or identified with them to a degree which it is meaningless to call into question, if not offensive. Viewing that person via Interfacer only makes any such distinction the responsibility of the viewer -- to a much clearer degree. It does not challenge the identity of the person as they esteem themselves to be.

It is of course a matter of debate and choice as to whether the user of Interfacer shares their reframed perception with others in some way. A simple variant of this is the manner in which political and other cartoons and caricatures are shared. To what extent might it be appropriate to keep such personal reframing confidential?

Potentially amusing is the sense in which the first encounter between two users of Interfacer could be understood as reframing the sense of a "blind date" -- to a far higher degree than is the case when such an encounter is only constrained by both wearing sunglasses to avoid eye contact. Given any degree of future integration with dating systems, enhanced with artificial intelligence, the possibility of the evolution of relationship being navigated with the aid of such facilities could ben rflected in the progressive "unveiling" of the barriers from their use respective uses of Interfacer. The process rcalls the ceremonial unveiling of partners in marriage in some cultures.

Distributive interactive use of Interfacer?

Some smartphone applications already make provision for the detection of others in the immediate physical vicinity subscribing to similar preoccupations. The application then selectively shares information between those in that environment, potentially enabling them to make contact. Interfacer could be potentially enhanced along such lines.

The question to be explored is how separate Interfacer applications might respond to each other. Is some kind of competitive transaction to be imagined? Are certain features scaled up or down according to the respective reframing previously selected by the viewer/hearer? Is one viewer empowered to "override" features selected by the other -- even to the point of constituting a form of harassment? Are compromise renderings negotiated through the sharing software -- or possibly blocked by either user?

There are now an increasing number of environments in which special protective headgear is a requirement: construction sites, biohazardous zones, surgeries, aircraft cockpits, military frontlines, and the like. Visitors to such zones are expected to wear whatever is appropriate. Clearly such special headgear could be augmented with Interfacer to enable visitors to view the environment as those responsible would have them experience it.

Even if protective headgear was not itself a requirement, it might in future be made a requirement that any use of Interfacer by the visitor be overridden by patterns distributed by those responsible for the environment. Rather than the famed Potemkin village construction to frame the experience of Catherine the Great, the experience is then reframed by virtual reality technology -- into a more "virtuous" condition. This could be of specific relevance to any regulatory assessment of the condition of the workers in such environments.

Especially interesting is how such Interfacer interaction might function in a group environment potentially enhanced otherwise by a groupware application. With the advent of artificial intelligence of a higher order, might the reframing of each user be skillfully tweaked by the AI to enhance their fruitful collaboration -- a desperately needed matchmaker function in policy-making environments?

Use of Interfacer to project an image

To the extent that Interfacer is used in the interactive mode described above, users might be enabled to build their preferred image as they would wish to be perceived by others using this facility. This approach is obviously similar to the mann err in which people design an avatar of themselves to interact within online virtual worlds. There is extensive experience of this technology.

Clearly this would complement existing investment in clothing, cosmetic surgery and cosmetics in building an image. It is appropriate to recall the much-remarked level of investment of President Macron of France in his facial appearance (Emmanuel Macron has spent €26,000 on makeup in his first three months as French president, The Telegraph, 24 August 2017; Macron keeps up appearances with €26,000 makeup bill since May, The Guardian, 25 August 2017; Emmanuel Macron’s $30,000 makeup scandal hides a much bigger blemish, The Washington Post, 25 August 2017). In modern society should everyone be enabled to increase their relative allure in this way?

Celebrities would clearly be encouraged to build electronic images of themselves, much as they choose to invest in image management through public relations consultants.

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