30 May 2012, 10:35am
media & technology research social media social networks
by jordan

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Anthropology of Social Networking at UCL

Thanks to Daniel Miller at University College London for organizing a new resource for the anthropology of social networking and social media: Anthropology of Social Networking. The website includes information on recent ethnographic projects around the world that seek to understand social networking sites and practices in their everyday context “and their impact on our knowledge and understanding of society, humankind, and social science theory,” as well as a blog. They are still seeking additional contributors.

You can read about my dissertation research, Mobile Berlin: Social Media and the New Europe, as well as my co-conspirator Charles Pearson’s work on social media and the Tea Party movement in the U.S. Charles and I are organizing a panel on the anthropology of social media for the annual American Anthropological Association meetings this fall in San Francisco — more info TBA.

19 Mar 2009, 12:19pm
social networks twitter
by jordan

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From anonymity to exhibitionism: whither Twitter?

It’s funny how, once upon a time, people both valued and mocked anonymity on the internet — most users picked a “handle” or an online moniker, and avoided sharing their real names or identifying details, while it was joked that “on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog” (or an adult man pretending to be a teenage girl, as was often imagined). Facebook has gone some way towards undermining that convention, encouraging users to use their full names, and making it easy for people you once knew (say, in high school) to find you. And though not required, plenty of people put their real names on Twitter — including numerous well-known people and celebrities, from actors and musicians to social media authors (I tend to assume that anyone famous with thousands of followers is probably who they say they are — but who knows?).

Microblogging as superficial exhibitionism

Twitter, in its increasing popularity and visibility, is generating some anxiety as well. A teaser for new animated series “Supernews” describes Twitter users as exhibitionists who have only superficial online friendships, and who confuse microblogging with real social connections (“if they were _really_ your friends, wouldn’t they call you personally to see how you’re doing?”). It’s entertainingly short-sighted to imply that a phone call is more intimate than an online interaction, when not so long ago, people were anxious about the social consequences of telephones replacing in-person communication.

The future of Twitter

At the other end of the spectrum, Nova Spivack voices concerns about the widespread adoption of Twitter, a service which as yet doesn’t offer much in the way of filtering. Twitter, in its relative simplicity, can be used in many different ways by its participants — and whom you follow determines the kind of conversation you’ll experience (Howard Rheingold, for example, advocates “sampling” from the Twitter stream, not trying to stay constantly up-to-date). Spivack describes the various ways in which Twitter is subject to possible overload — users who post too often, but have little to say, spammers who hijack hashtags (twitter content tags marked with a # sign) and @replies, and an excess of notifications, from news updates to your own desktop apps. Twitter for now remains a relatively even space for communication, in which the biggest distinction between famous or popular accounts is their number of followers. The downside of this lies in the equal access Twitter provides for spammers, advertisers, and other potentially unwanted content providers. Spivack concludes that some form of filtering will be necessary to preserve Twitter’s usefulness, ideally through some kind of metadata to allow ranking by popularity, credibility, content type, provider type, and so forth (assuming these are straightforward to implement, that is!).

'The Theory of Twitter Overload' by raster on flickr, some rights reserved For my part, I’m always most fascinated by the unintended uses of sites like Twitter, and the creative ways users appropriate online services and technologies. While Twitter may be risking its longterm viability, as Spivack suggests, its very simplicity permits users to innovate and generate new applications its creators never envisioned.

Authentic Youth: Cultural Capital and Credibility in Digital Youth Culture

(from a proposed paper on the role of digital media in the lives of young people)

For young people, commodity culture offers an important site for the production of individual and collective meanings. Digital spaces such as the internet provide an excellent arena for do-it-yourself culture and creative consumption, but are ultimately structured by the same logics that determine how popular culture operates more generally. Discourses of credibility and authenticity afford us a glimpse into how young people navigate the complex interplay of social networks, cultural commodities, and subcultures in a mobile, mediated society. Given the role of cultural engagement in developing social capital, digital media offer a means for young people to become more invested in their social and cultural worlds.

more »

29 Mar 2006, 4:24pm
media & technology social networks
by jordan

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myspace — not just for pedophiles anymore!

An interesting tidbit in the news this week — apparently, students in SoCal relied on MySpace and other digital media (email, txts, IM, etc.) to organize extensive walkouts Tuesday and Monday protesting proposed new immigration legislation.

From the LA Times:

“The protests appeared to be loosely organized, with students learning about them through mass e-mails, fliers, instant messages, cellphone calls and postings on myspace.com Web pages.”

the Modesto Bee:

“At Ceres High, students spread word of the protest through the popular teen Web site MySpace.com.”

and the San Diego Union-Tribune:

“Cpl. Dennis Gutierrez, a department spokesman, said students were well organized because they were communicating through the myspace.com Web site.”

Not that this represents a new use of digital communications to organize protesters or coordinate masses of people — Howard Rheingold has written about and documented “smart mobs,” amorphous groups of people that cooperate and behave intelligently, despite their size and lack of centralized organization. But this may be the first highly publicized use of MySpace to help give students a political voice.

Hopefully, this recent application will suggest some of the positive possibilities for sites like MySpace, and other techno-social activities like texting and instant messaging. Maybe it will even offset some of the negative publicity and moral panics that the media have been fanning lately. Instead of stressing out about the (low) risk of internet pedophiles, or indulging in fears about inappropriate online behaviors for teens, we should focus on how social networking sites and digital media can facilitate meaningful community for young people, contributing to increased social connections and thereby fostering social engagement.

 
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