The merits of voting have come under scrutiny as of late, thanks in part to Russell Brand’s comments on the topic in his guest edited edition of the New Statesman. (Oh and I think there might have been an interview as well.) I’m highly suspicious of voting as well, which is why my ballots are mostly blank except for the one or two things I think might be strategically useful in later direct action. I voted earlier this week in a local election because my city is still small enough that there are very real and tangible differences to electing one counsel person over another: One city council person authorizes citizen working groups to organize municipal composting while another led the charge to close an indy media center that hosted an Iraqi artist because… terrorism. A lot has already been said about the efficacy of voting and why it alone cannot possibly bring about the fundamental change that politicians promise. Besides, if you’ve read your Zinn, you know that all the important stuff happens between elections anyway. What I want to touch on today however, has less to do with government elections, and more to do with the abstract concept of voting. Why is it that, if voting is implemented within a system, do we automatically assume that it is more democratic? What happens to social networks and web platforms when we install voting as the overriding system of displaying public opinion? Why shouldn’t the critique of voting in general be directly imported as a critique of the social networking sites that use voting as the primary form of interaction on the site? more...
Note: This article discusses virulent racism and white privilege. However, every effort has been made to not post or link to the images discussed below.
At first, I didn’t want to write about the privileged little shits who, sometime around May of last year, got it in their heads that it would be funny to lay facedown on the floor with some skittles and tea and call it #trayvonning. The Zimmerman verdict brought the disgusting meme back into timelines and news cycles, so I feel obliged to make short mention of it. I thought it would be disingenuous of me to write a post for just about every other (1, 2, 3) performative internet meme without mentioning this disgusting bit of racism. #Trayvonning shows up on the usual platforms –Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr—albeit I don’t see as much #Trayvonning as I did #standingman or even #eastwooding in its heyday. There are no dedicated web sites to #Trayvonning (although I haven’t checked Stormfront), nor have I ever seen the hashtag reach trending status. If there’s any silver lining to this story it’s the fact that I encountered many more people deriding the meme, than participating in it. more...
Over the past few months there’s been a lot of hoopla around the “mass exodus” of teens from Facebook, with particular reference to Facebook’s decreasing cache of cool. Despite several refutations to the mass-exodus hypothesis, people—academics and non-academics alike— still ask me all the time: “So Jenny, what’s up with all the kids leaving Facebook? I hear it’s not cool anymore.”
Now let me be clear; I am not cool. I hold no pretense of being cool, and hence have no business making any sort of objective hipness-rating on anything. Seriously. I just used the word “hip.” I am, however, a social scientist, and I want to take a moment to talk about some data—an area in which I am qualified. more...
This is part of a series of posts highlighting the Theorizing the Web conference, April 14th, 2012 at the University of Maryland (inside the D.C. beltway). It was originally posted on 4.6.12 and was updated to include video on 6.22.12. See the conference website for additional information.
The issue of self documentation is increasingly fertile ground for theorizing the intersection of the digital and the material, illustrating how our identities are increasingly mediated by new technologies and “digital” forms of sociality. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest (as relatively new forms of sociality) produce requisite changes in our self concepts. In the digital era, identity becomes a project of coordinating, collecting, and curating; self presentation becomes a project of self documentation.
Each of these authors acknowledges the paradigmatic changes new technology (especially social networking sites like Facebook) has introduced into our self concepts. For example, Aimée Morrison looks at how norms are created, encouraged, and enforced in the digital realm of Facebook. The Facebook status update field has gone through several permutations, reflecting changing expectations and norms regarding self presentation and self documentation on this popular social networking site. Somewhat differently, Rob Horning addresses issues of power and control in the promulgation of new forms of sociality. More specifically, Horning discusses Facebook’s role in socializing users into the “digital self,” or the self as curated project. Self documentation is integral to the rise of the digital self and the destruction of the inner/private self. In addition, Jordan Frith reflects on how social media incorporates emerging GPS technology into location based social networks (LBSN) like Foursquare. Drawing from qualitative interviews with over 35 Foursquare users, Frith analyzes the impact of this LBSN on both self-presentation and self-documentation practices.
Finally, social media and the ability to self-document also changes our conception of time. As Nathan has argued, “Social media increasingly force us to view our present as always a potential documented past” (Jurgenson, 2011). In this vein, Sam Ladner addresses the proliferation of digital calendaring (MS Outlook, Google Calendar) and resultant changes such technology engenders to our conceptions and use of time. Digital calendars create new affordances but also new risks in time management.
[Paper titles and abstracts after the jump.]
Most of our interactions with technology are rather mundane. We flip a light switch, buckle our seat belts, or place a phone call. We have a tacit knowledge of how these devices work. In other words, we have relatively standard, institutionalized, ways of interacting with familiar technologies. For example: if I were to drive someone else’s car, even if it is an unfamiliar model, I do not immediately consult the user manual. I look around for the familiar controls, maybe flick the blinkers on while the car is still in the drive way, and off I go. Removal of these technologies (or even significant alterations) can cause confusion. This is immediately evident if you are trying to meet a friend who does not own a cell phone. Typical conventions for finding the person in a crowded public space (“Yeah, I’m here. Near the stage? Yeah I see you waving.”) are not available to you. In years prior to widespread cell phone adoption, you might have made more detailed plans before heading out (“We’ll meet by the stage at 11PM.”) but now we work out the details on the fly. Operating cars and using cell phones are just a few mundane examples of how technologies shape social behavior beyond the actions needed to operate and maintain them. The widespread adoption of technologies, and the decisions by individual groups to utilize technologies can have a profound impact on the social order of communities. This second part of the Tactical Survey will help academics, activists, and activist academics assess the roll of information technology in a movement and make better decisions on when and how to use tools like social media, live video, and other forms of computer-mediated communication. more...
A recent study published in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking looks at the relationship between Facebook use and perceptions of other’s lives. The authors, sociologists Hui-Tzu Grace Chou and Nicholas Edge from Utah Valley University, find that those with greater involvement in Facebook feel that others have better and happier lives than they do. This is amplified for those who have many Facebook Friends with whom they do not interact outside of the online platform. These findings have been picked up by several mainstream media outlets, and unsurprisingly, are used as evidence of the deleterious impacts of an over-digitized world. An ABC news story, for example, retrieved through Yahoo! News, concludes with the following advice:
“So if you are looking for a way to cheer yourself up…you may do well to log off Facebook. Call your best friend instead.”
The comment sections are full of vindicated technological dystopianists extoling the benefits of face-to-face (read: real) over digitally mediated interaction. To keep things consistent, I will share some of the comments from the news story linked above:
There is a video floating around the internet of a woman getting 152 of her closest Facebook friends tattooed on her arm, creating a full sleeve composed of tiny profile pictures that looks like a geometric checkerboard. As a scholar and an avid tattoo collector, I find this very illuminating.
As the 2012 presidential race ever so slowly gains momentum it remains clear that social media will be influencing elections for a long time to come. In the long run, does the shift towards social media campaigning change who is perceived to be a legitimate candidate? If so, social media might change who wins elections and therefore changes how we are governed. Avoiding [for now] the issue of whether social media has inherent tendencies towards the left or right, what I want to ask is: opposed to old media, does new media benefit political underdogs and outsiders?
As Republicans announce presidential bids on Twitter and Obama gets friendly with Zuckerberg and Facebook, it seems that the presidential campaign has found itself augmented by and reliant upon social media tools; some of the very same tools many of us use, like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and so on. Part of their popularity is that one can view and be viewed by people from all over the world in an instant and for no cost. It does not cost money to publish this post or to tweet about it later on. Social media campaigning is also relatively cheap; indeed, often times free. Alternatively, print advertising is expensive because space is scarce and the scarcity of broadcast time makes television and radio too costly for underdogs and outsiders to fairly compete. However, when we exchange atoms for bits we enter into a world of abundance, a world where broadcasting a message quickly and globally becomes cheap and easy.
This cheaper social-media campaign style may remove or at least lesson more...
Twitter users, likely from outside of China itself, are calling for people to “stroll” in Chinese public areas. The strolling protestors are not to carry signs or yell slogans, but instead to blend in with regular foot traffic. Chinese officials will not be able to identify protestors who themselves can safely blend in anonymity. [Edit for clarity: the idea is that foot traffic will increase in the announced area, but officials won’t know which are the protesters.]
This tactic is reminiscent of those French Situationist strategies of May ’68 to create chaos and disorder (note that strolling is akin to, but not exactly the same as, DeBord’s practice of “the derive“). The calls to “stroll” have had impact in China with the government shutting down public spaces and popular hangouts. Even a busy McDonald’s was closed. These gatherings announced over Twitter have been highly attended by many officials, police and media, but, importantly, not by many protestors themselves.
I’ve been doing a series about what academic research on race and racism on the Internet. The series continues today with a look at what researchers are finding about one the most talked about aspects of the popular Internet: Social Networking Sites.
Social networking sites (SNS), such as Facebook and MySpace, are phenomenally popular and important to the field of Internet studies, (Boyd and Ellison, “Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship,” JCMC, 2007, Vol.13(1):210-230). According to a recent report, the top SNS is currently Facebook, with over 65 million unique visitors per month. Facebook has displaced the former leader in the field, MySpace, which still currently gets about 58 million unique visitors per month. These are staggeringly high numbers of people participating in these sites. But what does this phenomenon have to do with race and racism? more...