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Richard Prince, an artist, downloaded pictures from peoples’ Instagram accounts, blew them up and printed them on canvas. He called it art and sold them off for up to $100K. The account owners were not asked in advance or informed afterward. He didn’t pay a thin dime to any of them.

Some analyzed it as an artistic endevour. Others were more critical and accuse Prince of naked greed.

At this point in history, the parts of ourselves we curate for sharing online, are an integrated part of our lives. The real world/virtual world dichotomy becomes less and less relevant as more of us capture large swaths of our lives and share them in text, pictures, video.

So what of Prince’s use of stranger’s Instagram pictures? Was it ethical? Was it theft? Should he have gotten permission? Can the subjects sue for a portion of the proceeds? If you are in a public place, such as a park, someone can take your picture because you have no expectation of privacy in a public place. But what about the Internet? Is it a public place? Are social network sites like modern day Agoras? If they are who owns your pictures and words?

Something to think about.

Look Up Exaggerates Damages of Social Media uses science to dismantle the claims in the viral video “Look Up” made by Gary  (aaaand no, I’m not linking to it).

They put claims such as ” We share frivolous bits of ourselves on social media, but leave out anything meaningful” up against current literature and find the claims ring as hollow as an empty keg. The sources they cite are diverse including: danah boyd, Kowert, Griffiths, and Oldmeadows article on “geek” stereotypes, the New York TimesPew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, and Deters and Mehl’s article on how Facebook can make us feel less lonely. They wrap up by citing an article from Slate.com which not only recaps technohysteria of the 20th century  but also reminds the reader of the Douglas Adams comment that any new technology will be regarded with suspicion and trepidation by people 35 or older.

Le sigh.

My generation?  We embraced 24/7 MTV and the the Sony Walkman with gusto. However,the Nervous Nellies of my youth intoned that these communication advances would erode our morals and make us socially disconnected narcissists. And now I see so many of us spouting those same arguments about computer and/or mobile media. Has my generation become our our parents at their most hand wringingest?

(Well, some of us, your gentle blog writer refuses to succumb to that kind of thinking.)

This cyberhysteria is the latest incarnation of panic over technology. Marvin’s When Old Technology Was New (1988) is a good book that tackles this topic with full force. She spells out how in the 19th and 20th centuries, electricity, the telephone, telegraph. the radio and television were subject to the same fear and hysteria as computer and mobile media is today.

Our most advanced consumer technology serves at the whim of its owners. I’m not a utopianist but a realist, we control our technology and that means that we have the lion’s share of control over what it does to us, our families and our children. On its own technology isn’t not good or bad, it’s tool and like a hammer it can be used to build or destroy.

Take a deep breath Gary, now exhale. There, that’s better isn’t it?

 

analogEarlier today a friend of mine, Frank Bridges, posted a link to an article about a new Facebook app called Paper. He made a comparison between Facebook and Instagram and MTV and its subsidiary VH1, a damned good comparison that makes it a paragraph worth reading.[1]

If you go back to boyd & Ellison’s Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship (2008), they lay out the chronological history of the major social networking sites from SixDegrees.com (*sniffle*) to Facebook (which at the time it was published was had only been opened to the general public for less than a year).  What is clear is that the popularity of any given social networking site seems to follow a pattern. It builds, generally driven by a youthful tide, peaks, seems to collapse in on itself,  and as the popularity recedes, the “next big thing” comes crashing on-shore. (The additional part of that cycle I’ve noticed is that the big ones like Friendster and MySpace, seem to redefine themselves and come back as niche sites). Facebook came along in time to hop on the top of the mobile wave and have been able to ride it pretty steadily since about 2005, far longer than any other site.

To quote from an earlier blog post of mine:

Facebook benefited from 2 things that I think gave them a longer lifespan than their predecessors. First, it had a built in population of users by the time in opened to the general public in 2006. By coincidence or design (and probably a bit of both) the progression of their rollout populations was very smart. By the time they opened up to the general public, young people from about 14 to 25 were already acquainted and comfortable with the brand and usage expanded up and down from there. Its ascendancy also coincided with the dramatic uptick in the adoption of mobile technology. This meant that you could carry your entire social network in your pocket (well, at least the people that were also on Facebook).

I’ve always seen their growth strategy up to about 2009 as being very simple: “how do we make the site sticky eno

Facebook addressed this in 2010 by picking up the pace of the site’s investments in technologies and sites that allowed Facebook to enhance the services it provides to users at either end of the spectrum including the  2012 acquisitions of Lightbox and Instagram (Wikipedia, 2012; “Facebook Newsroom,” 2012, “Forbes,” n.d., “Inside Facebook,” n.d.;).  (They added other functions and sites to meet the needs of other site stakeholders but we’re not looking at that right now).ugh to retain the users and seductive enough to convert the non-users ”. I think some very prescient folks realized that Facebook would lose its cachet among teens and 20somethings as their parents and *grandparents* swelled its ranks. Really, who wants to go dancing at the same club their parents go to? The Pew Internet & American Life project told us that teens are “diversifying their social network portfolio” (Madden, 2013); keeping the Facebook account while using other sites they perceive of as having less drama and fewer adults.

Instagram is their attempt to retain the lion’s share of the youth audience; it’s MTV. I know a young man in junior high school who isn’t very interested in having a Facebook account but who thinks his Instagram account is awesome.  Paper, on the other hand, is VH1 an attempt to retain the late boomers/early gen Xers who are still ambivalent about growing role technology is playing in their ability to connect with their family and friends as well as to offer something fresh and new to their original core audience. Heck, they even include a guy using a manual typewriter in their promotional video!

Well played, Facebook, well played.

References

Boyd, D. M., & Ellison, N. B. (2008). Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), 210–230. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00393.x

Contributors, M. (2012). Facebook, From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Facebook Newsroom. (2012).

Forbes. (n.d.).

Inside Facebook. (n.d.). Retrieved February 03, 2014, from http://www.insidefacebook.com/

Madden, M. (2013). Teens Haven’t Abandoned Facebook (Yet). Washington, D.C. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/Commentary/2013/August/Teens-Havent-Abandoned-Facebook-Yet.aspx


[1] “Facebook is now the VH1 and Instagram is the MTV. Years ago I remember I was watching VH1 all the time and I wondered how the hell that happened since I had never watched the channel before. Then I realized that not only had I changed, but so did VH1 and that was a planned thing, because many of my generation had stopped watching MTV. Facebook is bleeding young people at the moment, because they are using Instagram more. They are communicating with images and hashtags. FB’s Paper is a way to keep us older folks who like to read tangible objects and write with tangible objects”.

I’ve been away from my beloved blog here for so long, I feel as though I should sing a chorus of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”.

But I’ll spare you.

My primary academic interest is examining the ways we create and recreate our lives in virtual spaces. I come from the point of view that technology like a hammer or saw;  fantastically useful tools that someone can decide to pick up and use as an implant of construction or destruction. It’s not the tool, its the end user.

Virtually every new communication technology from the alphabet (Thank you Nancy Baym for that great quote from Plato!)* to the airplane (because you do realize that transportation is a type of communication tool, right?) to the Internet has been decried as that thing that will make our society dystopic, make our society utopic, make us smarter, make us dumber, foster connections between people, drive us farther apart. And someone will always proclaim that it somehow makes us less human and our youths sex mad, .

Poppycock and Balderdash.

This is why I disagree with authors like Robert Putnam and Sherry Turkel. Yes I think society has changed, but I think it was and is still doing just that: changing.  Every age has its affordances and constraints from its technology, but technology is just the tool, not the determiner of the world we live in.

That is completely up to us.

Anyway, for the uninitiated among you, xkcd is a thrice weekly web comic written by Randall Munroe.  It is funny, highly geeky, and at times head scratchy. A few days ago, he absolutely nailed how ridiculous the moral ( and every other) panic associated with technology is.

(BTW: if you are not familiar with the comic, I suggest checking it out. It’s great!)

* In her book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age, Nancy Baym quotes Socrates’ warning‘, by way of Plato,  that the creation of an alphabet that allowed people to write instead of extemporaneously orate would make us all dullards. Makes me chuckle every time. 

(Link to this comic: http://xkcd.com/1289/)

xkcd Simple Answers

Chatter of cellphones

According to a September 18, 2013 report from The Pew Internet and American Life Project, Joanna Brenner wrote that as of May 2013 “91% of American adults have a cell phone”. According to their historical data tracking adult cell phone ownership, in 2006 that number was only 73% (Brenner, 2013).

That means that in seven years, cell phone ownership grew almost 18% in 7 years and now more than 90% of American adults own a cell phone. Up until this point in time, IIRC, television was the technology that was adopted in most quickly by Americans households. According to Karl Hartig’s 1998 chart in the Wall Street Journal, Classroom Edition,  television ownership reached approximately 75% around 1957 it did not reach approximately 95% penetration until about 1970, a period of about 13 years. Not even electricity or personal computers match that rapid rate of adoption (Hartig, Tuning in: Communications technologies historically have had broad appeal for consumers). It seems though, that cell phones have.

I’m sure that some of these figures are driven by the fact that the purchase of a television took a much bigger immediate bite out of a household budget in the 1950s through the 1970s than a cell phone does today. Another factor that I think comes into play, especially early on, is that television, despite the dystopian view of it killing intra- and inter-family communication, could be a highly social media. A family that owned a television could invite family, friends, and neighbors to watch TV with them. You didn’t have to own a television in order to share in a special event such as the final game of the World Series or popular TV shows such as “I Love Lucy” or “Gunsmoke”.

However telephones are, generally speaking, not a technology that can be enjoyed communally.

For example, think about a social network of six households each with two adults and three children. It was possible in the mid-50s that only two of those six households would own a television and the other households might visit to socialize and watch TV. If we fast-forward to the turn of the 21st century and look at a network of six households, again each with two adults and three children, you would likely see the adults and possibly one or more of the children, each having their own cell phone. It would stand to reason that a physically large (remember the first TV sets were essentially the size of a piece of furniture), expensive, and mom essential item would be adopted at a slower pace than something smaller and cheaper that offered more immediately obvious professional and personal affordances. The thing that amazes me is that TV was so rapidly adopted despite its relative cost.

(I feel that I should apologize at this point for not researching statistics on what percentage of a family’s budget a new television would cost versus the percent of a family’s budget a cell phone would cost. Despite not having numbers I am comfortable in stating that the purchase of a television in the mid-1950s through 1970s would’ve consumed a larger part of a household budget versus the cell phone purchased between the turn of the 21st century and 2013.)

So a chatter of cellphones populates our public spaces, replaces our home phones and, for the 50+% of us who use smartphones provides, information and entertainment almost any place at almost any time. Scholars such as Barry Wellman and Keith Hampton study the effects of our perpetual connectedness via mobile media technology. It looks like they will have a lot to study for some time to come.

References

Brenner, J. Pew Research Center, (2013). Pew internet: Mobile. Retrieved from Pew Internet & American Life Project website: http://pewinternet.org/Commentary/2012/February/Pew-Internet-Mobile.aspx

Hartig, K. (Designer). (1998). Tuning in: Communications technologies historically have had broad appeal for consumers [Web Graphic]. Retrieved from http://www.karlhartig.com/chart/techhouse.pdf

In boyd and Ellison’s foundational article, Social Networking Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship, they define a social networking site thusly:

…[W]eb-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system (Boyd & Ellison, 2008, p. 211).

A Social Media Agency is a UK based PR firm that firm that designs marketing exclusively for social media. It’s natural then that they would maintain a directory of social networking sites. And they do. They maintain a list of almost 250 social networking sites. They range from general use sites like Facebook and Twitter to niche sites for booklovers, vampire enthusiasts and more. That list could easily swell if they added alternative reality sites such as Second Life, blogging platforms such as LiveJournal and WordPress, massively multiplayer online role-playing games  (MMORPGs) like World of Warcraft (do folks still play that?) and dating sites such OKCupid and EHarmony, that have appended social media like elements  to their interface. It seems as though there are enough sites for everybody including the dog.

No, I’m serious about that dog part.

But, if the all the world’s a stage, how many parts do we play today? How many parts can we reasonably sustain? Sociologist Erving Goffman used the theatrical metaphor of the “performance” to describe our interaction with other people. He didn’t mean it in a way that implies people act falsely in front of others, but that we comport ourselves differently for different “audiences” or groups of people. For example, when we are at work we behave in a way appropriate to the workplace. When we are with a bunch of friends watching football our demeanor and behavior is most likely different even if there is an overlap in the two groups (Goffman, 1959).

In their study of identity and interaction online, Bullingham and Vasconcelos, found that, “[t]he key finding from interview data is that participants often attempt to re-create their offline selves online, rather than actively engaging with persona adoption”(Bullingham & Vasconcelos, 2013, p. 109) But they only looked at a very small population and asked each person about their activity on one particular site. It’s not a leap to believe that in the same way our concrete world work and social selves differ according to the setting, that our Facebook and LinkedIn selves will differ in a Goffmanian way as well. After all, even if there is an overlap in the people we are linked to on the two sites, we are there for different purposes.

So many social networking sites; so many interesting opportunities.

References

Boyd, D. M., & Ellison, N. B. (2008). Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship. (D. M. Boyd & N. B. Ellison, Eds.)Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), 210–230. doi:10.1111/j.1083-6101.2007.00393.x

Bullingham, L., & Vasconcelos, a. C. (2013). “The presentation of self in the online world”: Goffman and the study of online identities. Journal of Information Science, 39(1), 101–112. doi:10.1177/0165551512470051

Goffman, E. (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. (E. University Of, Ed.)Teacher (Vol. 21, p. 259). Doubleday. doi:10.2307/2089106

I’m not talking about technology today.  Today I’m talking about social history, triggered by something I read that made me angry. This is personal and anecdotal but it’s a topic that I’ve give some thought to over the years.

Today, the Washington Post posted an opinion piece by Dana Milbank called “The Weakest Generation?”  Please some time to read it, it’s worth taking in his point of view.  In it he talks about his parents attending the Great March on Washington and he quotes his father as saying, “’ When people talk about Martin Luther King, that’s my connection. It’s a small connection — no handshake or anything — but I’m proud to have been there.’”

This piece is the conceit of the most privileged of the baby boom generation filtered through one who embraced their self rewarding worldview.

His thesis is both wrong and insulting. How can he say of his, of *my*, “[w]e grew up soft: unthreatened, unchallenged and uninspired. We lacked a cause greater than self.” Isn’t that the same charge leveled at his parents’ generation by *their* parents. He’s internalized Boomer bullshit and regurgitated in this editorial.

Curating and passing on history has always been the dominion of the elite and the Boomer generation is no exception. Those who tell the tales Milbank takes as truth were able to go to college and had the free time to attend events like the Great March on Washington.  When they got out of college they went into positions that afforded them to freedom to write about their experiences as though they were nearly universal and to filter the experiences of others through their lens.

Like all older generations, they would have us believe that they made a lasting, positive difference in the world.  Well, that’s true for every generation. Whether it is a World War, Civil War, assassinations, financial upheaval, or fights for voting rights, every generation has had those historical movements and moments that marked its soul and shaped its legacy.

Let me put this into perspective for you: Boomers had a good time at Woodstock, my generation had a good time at Live Aid and contributed to a serious cause.  (And, for the record, his father is no more connected to Martin Luther King, Jr than I am to Madonna just because I was in JFK stadium that blazing hot day.)

They had the BC pill freeing them to enjoy a level of sexual freedom and be open and public about it. When most of us were beginning our sexual lives, AIDS was the ugly specter peering over our shoulder.

Boomers were raised, for the most part, in an age of prosperity and relative financial security. If you grew up in the 70s and 80s, you were much more likely to have had 2 working parents, or divorced parents, or live in blended families. or live through periods where a parent was laid off from their job.

When we were kids, having enough gas to power our cars became a serious, tangible issue.

After September 11, 2001, we may have been told to go shopping, but I also remember in the weeks after, men of all ages *volunteering* to go into the military. I remember all of the people who volunteered to help rebuild New Orleans and those who showed up to assist at my beloved Jersey Shore after Hurricane Sandy.

No, Mr. Milbank, is mistaken if he thinks our generation is untested by trial…[and] squandering American greatness by turning routine give-and-take into warfare”. As every other generation, we have our challenges and we, like any every other generation, have risen to those challenges. Sometimes only partially, often imperfectly, but we rise and will continue to do so.

And you know something, so will the Millennials, who are coming right up behind us, and their children and grandchildren and every successive generation.

Shame on Dana Milbank, shame on him for foisting his weak, biased version of social history off on us.