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Archive for the ‘The Internet’ Category

We configure?

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.

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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?

 

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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”.

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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

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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

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When crisis survivors[1] of begin to face the public, often they appear on the TV interview circuit: Anderson Cooper, The Today Show, Good Morning America, etc.  Every host asks the same half dozen questions and every interview is punctuated by the same news footage; the only thing that changes is the set and who was asking the questions. Hannah Anderson[2] threw broadcast journalism into a bit of a tizzy last week because she (unintentionally) flipped the script.

Prior to her kidnapping Anderson maintained an account on the website Ask.fm.[3] As soon as she got home, she took to that site and answered questions from anyone who asked directly and with no filter. She also made a point to tell those identifying themselves as journalists that she would not answer their questions and that they should leave her family alone.

Why Hannah went to that site only she can answer, maybe she wanted to do something mindless, maybe this was an effort to get back to normal, maybe she wanted to see if people had questions for her. What we do know is that the questions and comments ran the gamut from flirtatious to sympathetic to prurient. At times her answers were blunt:

[q] Why didn’t you tell your parents he creeped you out?

[a] In part, he was my dad’s best friend and I didn’t want to ruin anything between them….

[q] Are you glad he’s dead?

[a] Absolutely”(Wian, 2013).

Almost right away, news organizations began hitting up every psychologist, social worker and social media “expert” they could find to comment on this. Some handwringing sob sisters took to the airwaves and Internet questioning why she did this and about how inappropriate it was for her father to allow her access to social media. Others recognized that as a child of the Electronic Social Media Age, Anderson’s actions were not surprising and in fact, could even be considered healthy.  Others still just published screen caps of her account and wrote scant commentary around it. (I’m not including a bunch of citations here as the online commentary is easily googled).

This was different and I’m not sure that the media knew what to do. With her blunt talk, selfies and shots of her new manicure, Anderson didn’t fit the model of “what a victim does”. Was some of the the traditional press squawking at the thought of being pointedly and publicly, cut out of the picture? It is certain that Matt Lauer wouldn’t ask some of those questions that she answered.

According to Baym and boyd, “[P]eople… use the public and quasi-public qualities of social media to carve out safe identities for themselves in the face of legal troubles, create public memorials for the dead, [and] narrate their own stories….(Baym & boyd, 2012). Isn’t that just what Anderson did? In immediately taking to social media, Anderson (quite unknowingly I’m sure) did just that. She put her unedited narrative out there without the help of a broadcast media outlet. If you asked her why she did it, her answer might not be the same as Baym and boyd’s in letter but I bet it would match the spirit.

References

Baym, N. K., & Boyd, D. (2012). Socially Mediated Publicness: An Introduction. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 56(3), 320–329. doi:10.1080/08838151.2012.705200

Wian, C. (2013). Friend: Hannah Anderson discusses kidnapping on social media. CNN.com. Retrieved August 18, 2013, from http://www.cnn.com/2013/08/14/us/hannah-anderson-social-media


[1] I use the term survivor with great intention. I refuse to call anyone who gets through something like this a victim. Increasingly I find that term diminishes the individual by casting them in the role of the captive, the sufferer. The word “survivor” looks towards their future. You are only a victim until it is over.

[2] In August, 2013, Hannah Anderson was kidnapped by a family friend who killed her mother, brother and dog. After an Amber Alert and multi state search, the two were found about a week later and she was rescued. Her kidnapper was killed after firing a gun at police.

[3] Ask.Fm is a European based site where users, who can choose to remain anonymous, can ask other users questions about pretty much anything. The answers to every question appears on the user’s home screen in the form of an extended Q&A

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This graceful looking infographic has two panes. One shows the history of the introduction of browsers and the web technologies that made the internet colorful, interactive and dynamic. the other shows the growth of number of users as well as the monthly traffic over time. You can see the growth of the Internet as it maps to the tools that made it so attractive and useful to people.

It still boggles my mind that when I first went online there were only about 10 million people online. Today almost a third of the entire world’s population is online keeping me company.

Click on the picture to see this beautiful piece. It was originally published by The Washington Post’s The Switch and tweeted by The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project which is how I came upon it.

So what year did you first get online?

Evolution of the Web

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