Twitter Still Isn’t A Backchannel

asa-2013During the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (#ASA13) in New York this last week, I was reminded of the post that I wrote last year before #ASA2012 in which I encouraged tweeting academics to reach out to non-tweeting academics to bridge the gap between those who participate on the conference hashtags at ASA and those who don’t. Nathan Jurgenson (@nathanjurgenson) followed up with a post titled, “Twitter isn’t a Backchannel,” in which he made the point that the term “backchannel” perpetuates digital dualist ideas of what does and doesn’t count as “real” participation at a conference:

There is no “backchannel”, there is no more or less “real” way to exist within this atmosphere of information, yet we continue to hear that the Twitter distraction whisks people away from the “real” conference in favor of something separate and “virtual.” Each time we say “real” or “IRL” (“in real life”) to mean offline, we reify the digital dualist myth of a separate digital layer “out there” in some ‘cyber’ space. And when we call Twitter a “backchannel” to mean a separate conversation, running tangent to the offline conference in some space behind precious face-to-face exchanges, we continue to support this digital dualism. The implicit, and incorrect, assumption is that the on and offline are zero-sum, that being offline means being not online, and vice versa.

In the comments, I agreed that Nathan had a point: “backchannel” really isn’t a great term for what we-who-livetweet do when we tweet at a conference. But what, I asked, should we call this activity? more...

Context Collapse: A Literature Review

This is not a typical blog post.  It has far too many words–many of which are jargony– no images, and formal citations where readers would expect/prefer hyperlinks. Rather, this is a literature review. A dry recapitulation of the often formulaic work of established scholars, forged by two low-on-the-totem-pole bloggers with the hope of acceptance into the scholarly realm through professionally recognized channels–in this case, the American Sociological Association annual meetings. Nathan Jurgenson (@nathanjurgenson) and I are working to further theorize context collapse. To do so, however, we need to fully understand how the concept is being and has been used. Below we offer such an account, and ask readers to point out anything we’ve missed or perhaps misrepresented.  In short, we hope to share our labors, and invite readers to tell us how we can do better.

Recognizing that this is an atypically time/energy intensive blog reading experience,  I offer you, the reader,  a joyous and theoretically relevant moment with George Costanza before the onslaught of text: 

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Post-ASA Reflection: Gender, Networks, & Use of ASA Hashtags

Networked relational spaghetti? Below: how to read this graph.

Before the 2012 meeting of the American Sociological Association kicked off last week, I challenged those of us who tweet at conferences—or “backchannel”—to reach out to those who don’t. (Nathan Jurgenson has since made a convincing argument for why ‘backchannel’ isn’t the right word for this practice, though I’m not yet aware of a good replacement term.) This week, I want to share some of my preliminary observations and questions about gender and Twitter use at ASA2012 by looking at Marc Smith’s (@marc_smith) Twitter NodeXL social network analysis maps.

So first off, what are we looking in the graph above?


Twitter isn’t a Backchannel (#ASA2012)

Bodies and screens, voices and tweets, hallways and backchannels, experiencing the American Sociological Association meetings this weekend in Denver means stepping into an atmosphere oversaturated with information. The bombardment can sometimes be overwhelming, with more sessions than you can attend and more tweets than you can read. This isn’t going to be a post on why we should use Twitter at conferences, Whitney Erin Boesel already did that more diplomaticly than I could pull off. Anyways, framing it as ‘why do we continue to meet face-to-face?’ would be more interesting for me. Instead, I simply want to argue that there will not be separate online and offline conferences happening, that Twitter isn’t a backchannel and the session room isn’t the front. The reality of the conference is always both digital and physical for everyone whether their noses are buried in a screen, sheets of paper, or staring unblinkingly at the podium. more...

Toward A More Inclusive Backchannel: An Unusual Call To Action

Academic conferences: the model needs to change.

As the 2012 meeting of the American Sociological Association (#ASA2012) kicks into gear, I want to use this post to start a conversation about a somewhat-contentious topic: academics’ use of Twitter, particularly at conferences. I begin by extending some of what’s already been written on Cyborgology about the use of Twitter at conferences, and then consider reasons why some people may find Twitter use off-putting or intimidating at conferences. I close by considering what Twitter users in particular can do to ease the “Twitter tensions” at ASA by being more inclusive. The stakes here include far more than just “niceness”; they include as well an opportunity to shape the shifting landscape of scholarly knowledge production.


Critical Theory: Useful Distinction or Unconscious Smugness?

On September 18th, 2011, Barry Wellman, the early and rather prescient scholar of the Internet, posed a somewhat tongue-in-cheek question to the Communication and Information Technology Section of the American Sociology Association (CITASA): “‘Critical’ – aren’t we all?”  This post was precipitated by a call for papers for special issue of tripleC entitled Marx is Back: The Importance of Marxist Theory and Research for Critical Communication Studies Today (no affiliation with the author).  Specifically, the call invited papers that address (my emphasis):

what it means to ask Marx’s questions in 21st century informational capitalism, how Marxian theory can be used for critically analyzing and transforming media and communication today, and what the implications of the revival of the interest in Marx are for the field of Media and Communication Studies.

Shortly after it was sent, Wellman responded to the call, saying:

Not meant personally, but the use of the word “critical” by a subset of scholars always bothers me as leading to unconscious smugness? If I’m “critical”, your lot isn’t? Who, except flacks and twerps, isn’t critical? Can we criticize the criticalists?

This sparked a debate over the utility and appropriateness of the phrase “critical theory.”  Critics of the phrase raise the following objections: more...

George Ritzer: The Cathedrals & Dinosaurs of Consumption

Today we have a guest post from Distinguished University Professor and social theorist George Ritzer. This text is only part of the talk Dr. Ritzer will deliver in Las Vegas on Friday, August 19thas part of the Consumer Society Research Network conference [program]. Ritzer’s work on the technologies of consumption is in full force in this essay. The technologies of consumption in the form of ever more spectacular “cathedrals” of consumption are coming to look more and more like “dinosaurs.” This essay to provides an important backdrop of the current economic situation in Las Vegas, one in which Ritzer argues mirrors larger trends in consumerism and globalization.

There is, at least from my point of view, no better place to discuss the crisis and contradictions in consumption in the US, especially in its cathedrals of consumption, than in Las Vegas, the city devoted to, and built on, consumption and defined globally by its iconic cathedrals of consumption; the major casino-hotels on the Strip. It is here that we witnessed what was arguably the greatest consumer-driven expansion in the US in the run up to the Great Recession and, as a result of the latter, perhaps the greatest economic setbacks. Unemployment in Las Vegas rose as high as 15% and is still over 12%. New construction is virtually non-existent. The foreclosure rate, while slightly down from 2009, remains the highest, and by a wide margin, of all the metropolitan areas in the US. Gaming revenue dropped by $2 billion at the depth of the recession and is still down about $1.5 billion from the peak. The largest casino hotel conglomerates- MGM and Caesars- continue to report huge losses largely because of debt incurred during the Great Recession. Mirroring the global economic shift to the Far East, Las Vegas is no longer the gambling capital of the world and has been surpassed by both Macau and Singapore. more...

What the ASA 2011 Bingo Card Tells Us About the Conference

Yes, I know it is just a game and it is fun and it is not something to get all blog-ranty about. But, sorry, we’re (mostly) sociologists and we learned long ago the importance of the mundane (R.I.P. Garfinkel this year, by the way). The number of “retweets” this card receives makes it something worth discussing. We made our sociological bed, so let me sleep in it for a second.We’ll notice that the popular bingo card, created by Kieran Healy, is pretty negative. This does not mean that Healy or those who get a kick out of this dislike the conference. Instead, it provides a lighthearted way of expressing our frustrations with the event. Such as: more...

Mapping #ASA2011 Tweets with NodeXL

The 2011 American Sociological Association Meetings are about to start this week in Las Vegas, Nevada.

As the conference gets underway, the volume of tweets containing the #ASA2011 hashtag is rising.

Using NodeXL, I collected a set of tweets with the #ASA2011 tag and mapped the connections among the people who tweeted that term.

ASA 2011 NodeXL SNA Twitter Map

These are the connections among the Twitter users who recently tweeted the word ASA2011 when queried on August 15, 2011 more...