My Twitter is @nathanjurgenson; I’m there a lot.
My site is nathanjurgenson.com
My Twitter is @nathanjurgenson; I’m there a lot.
My site is nathanjurgenson.com
The semantics of Silicon Valley Capitalism are precise, measured, and designed to undermine preexisting definitions of the things such capitalists seek to exploit. It is no coincidence that digital connections are often called “friends,” even though the terms “friend” and “Facebook friend” have very different meanings. And then there is “social,” a Silicon Valley shorthand term for “sharing digital information” that bears little resemblance to the word “social” as we’ve traditionally used it. From “Living Social” to “making music social,” “social media” companies use friendly old words to spin new modes of interaction into concepts more comfortable and familiar. It is easier to swallow massive changes to interpersonal norms, expectations, and behaviors when such shifts are repackaged and presented as the delightful idea of being “social” with “friends.”
But is this “social” so social? Yes and no and not quite. To elaborate, we propose a distinction: “Social” versus “social,” in which the capital-S “Social” refers not to the conventional notion of social but specifically to Silicon-Valley-Social. The point is, simply, that when Silicon Valley entrepreneurs say “social,” they mean only a specific slice of human sociality.
When I first began as a graduate student encountering social media research and blogging my own thoughts, it struck me that most of the conceptual disagreements I had with various arguments stemmed from something more fundamental: the tendency to discuss “the digital” or “the internet” as a new, “virtual”, reality separate from the “physical”, “material”, “real” world. I needed a term to challenge these dualistic suppositions that (I argue) do not align with empirical realities and lived experience. Since coining “digital dualism” on this blog more than a year ago, the phrase has taken on a life of its own. I’m happy that many seem to agree, and am even more excited to continue making the case to those who do not.
The strongest counter-argument has been that a full theory of dualistic versus synthetic models, and which is more correct, has yet to emerge. The success of the critique has so far outpaced its theoretical development, which exists in blog posts and short papers. Point taken. Blogtime runs fast, and rigorous theoretical academic papers happen slow; especially when one is working on a dissertation not about digital dualism. That said, papers are in progress, including ones with exciting co-authors, so the reason I am writing today is to give a first-pass on a framework that, I think, gets at much of the debate about digital dualism. It adds a little detail to “digital dualism versus augmented reality” by proposing “strong” and “mild” versions of each.
Biden-laughs and Ryan-abs, Big Birds and binders and bayonets: There is something fascinating when an event as stodgily ceremonial as the presidential campaign is run through the lulz-filter of social media, secreting a hallucination of phrases and images and videos and, of course, gifs. An army is at the ready to spin off a gag at every turn, to propagate the joke to maximum scope; digital arpeggiations of candidate goofs and campaign blunders are transmitted from host to host through a mere caress of the touch-sensitive screen. Watching debates with that second screen of fast-moving social media streams and text-input boxes begging our thoughts has positioned many of us as hunters for the most shareable, memeiest content, ready to pounce at something, anything, and in the process, changing the overall narrative of an event. We’ve developed a kind of meme literacy, a habit of intuiting in real time the potential virality of a speech act — to hear retweets inside words.
Many have linked political conservatism with “the authoritarian personality,” which, in part, involves the willingness to view power structures as legitimate, less reluctance to submit to those in authority over you, and an increased tendency to exercise authority over the less powerful. Social media is often seen as counter-authoritarian, however, we also have good evidence that the Web in general, and social media in particular, also replicates existing power structures.
With these different concerns in mind, we might wonder if those with different political orientations use social media for politics in different ways. More specifically, are those on the right, even in a social media environment that permits more expression, voice, and creativity, more likely to submit and follow? Theodore Adorno, pictured above and pioneered work in this line of thought, I think, would predict that Republicans would be more passive, more likely to listen and restate, whereas those on the left would be a bit more likely to create new content.
I post these very brief thoughts (certainly much more would be needed to substantiate the sweeping claims I just made above; this is only a short blog post!) because The Pew Internet in American Life Project just today released some new findings on Social Media and Political Engagement [pdf]. Here are most of the findings:
I’d like to point readers to a terrific three-part essay by Laura Portwood-Stacer on three reasons why people refuse media, addiction, asceticism, and aesthetics. We can apply this directly to what might become an increasingly important topic in social media studies: social media refusers, already (edit: and unfortunately, as Rahel Aima points out) nicknamed “refusenicks”. There will be more to come on this blog on how to measure and conceptualize Facebook (and other social media) refusal, but let’s begin by analyzing these three frameworks used to discuss social media refusal and critique some of the underlying assumptions.
Presidential debates might be the single political event where Marshall McLuhan’s infamous phrase “the medium is the message” rings most true. Candidates know well that content takes the back seat, perhaps even stuffed in the trunk, during these hyper-performative news events. The video above of McLuhan on the Today show analyzing a Ford-Carter debate from 1976 is well worth a watch. The professor’s points still ring provocative this morning after the first Obama-Romney debate of 2012; a debate that treated the Twitter-prosumer as a television-consumer and thoroughly failed the social medium.
The video above is a “funny” take on the role of Twitter in our everyday lives from this past summer (I think). I know, who cares about celebrities and nothing is less funny than explaining why something is funny. But because the video isn’t really that funny to begin with, we’ve nothing to lose by quickly hitting on some of the points it makes. Humor is a decent barometer for shared cultural understanding for just about everything, indeed, often a better measure than the op-eds and blog posts we usually discuss in the quasi-academic-blogosphere. Those who made this video themselves are trying to tap into mainstream frustrations with smartphones and social media and their increasingly central role in many of our lives. So let’s look at the three main themes being poked at here, and I’m going to do my best to keep this short by linking out to where I’ve made these arguments before.
PJ Rey just posted a terrific reflection on hipsters and low-tech on this blog, and I just want to briefly respond, prod and disagree a little. This is a topic of great interest to me: I’ve written about low-tech “striving for authenticity” in my essay on The Faux-Vintage Photo, reflected on Instagrammed war photos, the presence of old-timey cameras at Occupy Wall Street, and the IRL Fetish that has people obsessing over “the real” in order to demonstrate just how special and unique they are.
While I appreciate PJ bringing in terrific new theorists to this discussion, linking authenticity and agency with hipsters and technology, I think he focuses too much on the technologies themselves and not enough on the processes of identity; too much on the signified and not where the real action is in our post-modern, consumer society: the signs and signifiers.
In light of the recent Newsweek magazine cover scandal, let’s think for a moment on what a “troll” is and when we should or should not call someone or something a troll. My first reaction to the Islamaphobic cover was “trolling. ignore.” That was the exact wrong reaction.
Trolls, of course, are those who deliberately post inflammatory material in order to disrupt or derail discourse. Declaring something or someone a “troll” is a way of saying that they just want attention. Trolls attempt to disrupt productive communication in an attempt to get noticed. The one thing you need to know to do when this happens: don’t feed the trolls. Don’t. Feed. The. Trolls. It’s good advice. However, because of its mainstream position, I do not think Newsweek is a “troll,” even if it sure as hell is acting like one.
Photos by Nathan Jurgenson, taken in Washington, D.C., 17, January 2012.
Malcolm Harris has posted one of the most provocative things I’ve ever read about social media, “Twitterland.” I’d like to point you the story and go through some of the many issues he brings to light. Harris’ story is one of theorizing Twitter and power; it can reinforce existing power imbalances, but, as is the focus here, how it can also be used to upset them.