The increasing centrality of the Internet in our daily lives has precipitated a spate of theorizing about how we – as humans and as a society – are changing (or not) due to the constant technological mediation of our most basic interactions and activities.  Let’s face it: This sort of theorizing is populated mostly by men of considerable privilege (with some very notable exceptions).  A cynic might hold that the problems concerning human techno-social interactions are relatively insignificant compared to more pressing issues of race, class, gender, age, etc.  One cannot but be sympathetic to such charges.

However, I would posit that a complicated set of processes are at work in causing many to view theory surrounding the Internet and its ever-expanding litany of technical terms (e.g., Web 2.0, prosumption, produsage, playbor, or sousveillance) as largely irrelevant to the salient social issues of our day: 1.) The theorists of the Web, tending to work from a position of privilege, perhaps, simply lack awareness of feminist and other situated discourses, thus failing to acknowledge their relevance.  2.) Privilege may also account for a willingness to be satisfied by grand theoretical projects that produce political objectives couched in inaccessible language, too impractical to be actionable, altogether irrelevant, or simply nonexistent.  3.) Disciplinary specialization is such that the theorists from Marxian, post-structuralist, and/or science and technology studies traditions who are studying similar phenomena may not be in dialogue with one another. more...

by nathan jurgenson

myspaceThere has been recent news coverage on the relationship between social status and social networking site usage. CNN asked “Does your social class determine your online social network?

“Is there a class divide online? Research suggests yes. A recent study by market research firm Nielsen Claritas found that people in more affluent demographics are 25 percent more likely to be found friending on Facebook, while the less affluent are 37 percent more likely to connect on MySpace.”

And NPR reports that “Facebook, MySpace Divide Along Social Lines.

“Social media researcher danah boyd [has] spoken to teens all over the country about their use of social media. She thinks the online social world is dividing up — just like the real world — into neighborhoods.”

I choose these quotes purposely to illustrate that CNN decided to report on this issue when a market research firm found what was already known to social scientists, such as danah boyd or Eszter Hargittai. NPR correctly focuses on boyd’s research, however, their story comes after CNN’s, and well after social scientists identified the trend.

fbBeyond this point, an argument that I previously made on this blog is that we are seeing a more post-structural, new-media, digital divide. In addition to the problematic of access to the internet, there is the issue of how different groups learn to use the web. Boyd states in the NPR story,

“Young people — and for the most part adults as well — don’t really interact online with strangers. They talk to people they already know. You have environments in which people are divided by race, divided by class, divided by lifestyle. When they go online they are going to interact in the same way.”

Thus, the wealthy are more likely to network with others of higher status, creating a situation where digital socialization mirrors, perpetuates and solidifies old status hierarchies. Following sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, it might be the case that those of high status are learning to network with each other, making themselves distinct in the way they use new media. Does this serve as a counter-argument to those that proclaim the democratizing potential of the internet? ~nathan

square-eye32 Facebook, MySpace Divide Along Social Lines

square-eye32 The Intersecting Roles of Consumer and Producer: A Critical Perspective on Co-production, Co-creation and Prosumption

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by nathan jurgenson

A major study (.pdf) on the way teens use social networking sites suggests that,

“…their participation is giving them the technological skills and literacy they need to succeed in the contemporary world. They’re learning how to get along with others, how to manage a public identity, how to create a home page.” [quote is from this article’s coverage]

bemowo_library_internetParents can no longer view MySpace as just a waste of time. In fact, so important are the skills being learned that we might hypothesize a new sort of habit-based digital divide taking shape.

Typically, the “digital divide” refers to physical access (access to the Internet, cell phones, etc), and this remains a crucial issue. However, as access becomes more diffuse, we can put forward another important non-material digital divide: between those who have and those who have not learned the important skills of social networking and online content production.

Pierre Bourdieu describes in his book Distinction how things like skills, habits and tastes are often learned outside of the education system. That is, those habits that the upper class learn that reproduce their status as the upper class are not simply the product of access to education but are also learned more informally. Similarly, in the case of the Internet, a different sort of digital divide could be based on computer usage behaviors that have little to do with material access. Much like the rest of the social world, adolescents are learning the skills online essential for future success, and they are learning these skills unequally. Who will best be able to utilize new media to build social capital? Who will not?

This reformulated non-material digital divide will be a split between those who just consume Internet content and those who both produce and consume content (the prosumers). It will be between those who experience the Internet in a solitary way and those who effectively network. [On a global scale, this is already playing out]

Do we conclude on the side of Bourdieu that the democratizing potential of the Internet could be usurped by the interest of the upper class in making itself distinct in its usage, thus perpetuating its status? Or should we see the Internet as a tool that will be used creatively to blur class distinction? Will class even be the primary factor for this non-material digital divide? ~nathan

square-eye32 Read More: The New York Times: Teenager’s Internet Socializing Not a Bad Thing


The Digital Divide: The Special Case of Gender