I have mentioned previously on this blog that I am engaged in an ongoing, qualitative, Facebook-based project looking at the experiences of social media users. None of the work from this most recent project is yet published, though I did use the data for my TtW2012 presentation. As I move into manuscript preparation, there are several theoretical and empirical trends that I need to flesh out. I hope that readers will indulge me today as I work through one such trend. I especially hope that readers will offer critiques and literature suggestions, as the end product will inevitably be strengthened through collaborative input from this academic community.
Specifically, I hope to flesh out the notion of reality curation. Much of the work on social network sites focuses on self-presentation, or the ways in which people curate images of themselves. These strategies of image-curation include friending practices, selective photographic and textual displays, and careful utilization of privacy settings—among other practices. Users are careful about their self-images, diligent in their upkeep, and protective against identity threats. Undeniably, I see these laborious practices of protection, maintenance, and care in the participants of my study. I also, however, see a second kind of labor; I see a diligent upkeep not only of outgoing data, but also incoming data. In particular, participants report careful curation of their Facebook News Feeds and (when applicable) Twitter networks.
This second type of curation—the curation of data coming in—is empirically and theoretically interesting. Work that focus on self-presentation (data going out) understands social network sites as both window and mirror—spaces for both voyeurism and self-reflection. This implicitly neglects, however, the idea that windows work two ways: they offer a view from outside in, but also a view from inside out. Social network sites, as opposed to non-social websites, are spaces of simultaneous projection, reflection, and, as I argue here, observation by the prosumer of the Profile.