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This post originally appeared on Cyborgology – read and comment on the post here.

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. Read More »

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This post originally appeared on Cyborgology – read and comment on the post here.

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:  Read More »

This post originally appeared on Cyborgology – read and comment on the post here.

I’d like to point readers to a terrific three-part essay by Laura Portwood-Stacer on three reasons why people refuse media, addictionasceticism, 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. Read More »

This post originally appeared on Cyborgology – read and comment on the post here.

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.  Read More »

This post originally appeared on Cyborgology – read and comment on the post here.

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. Read More »

This post originally appeared on Cyborgology – read and comment on the post here.

dont read all of the tweets

There is often the assumption that the information economy expects us to consume more and more, leading us to process more but concentrate less. Some have called this a “fear of missing out” (or FOMO), a “blend of anxiety, inadequacy and irritation that can flare up while skimming social media.” However, most of these arguments about FOMO make the false assumption that the information economy wants and expects us to always process more. This isn’t true; we need to accept the reality that the information economy as well as our own preferences actually value, even need, missing out.

Many do feel in over their heads when scrolling social media streams. Especially those of us who make a hobby or career in the attention/information economy, always reading, sharing, commenting and writing; tweeting, blogging, retweeting and reblogging. Many of us do feel positioned directly in the path of a growing avalanche of information, scared of missing out and afraid of losing our ability to slow down, concentrate, connect and daydream, too distracted by that growing list of unread tweets. While it seemed fun and harmless (Tribble-like?) at first, have we found ourselves drowning in the information streams we signed up for and participate in? Read More »

This post originally appeared on Cyborgology – read and comment on the post here.

While tech-writers often act as if the Web is something out there away from society, we all know (and they do too) that technology is always embedded in social structures, power, domination and inequalities. And the words we choose to talk about tech, while seemingly innocuous, betray some pretty heavy political predispositions.

Yesterday, the New York Times ran a story looking at a “new digital divide” where “poorer” folks aren’t using the web in a “meaningful” way but instead are “wasting time” on social media. I was reminded of how Facebook users looked down on MySpace users a few years ago or the current racist rhetoric surrounding iPhone versus Android mobile phone users. Technology is often an excuse to reify the fallacy that those less privledged are an other, different, less capable and less human.

Whenever someone declares what Internet-use is “meaningful” versus a “waste” we must be critical: who is making the claim? who benefits from these too-commonly constructed hierarchies? And here, as usual, we are dealing with a hierarchical framework created by privileged folks for everyone else to placed within. Read More »

This post originally appeared on Cyborgology – read and comment on the post here.

–Listen to the show here–

The Diane Rehm Show took to the air, ending 45 minutes ago, to debate how Facebook is making us lonely and disconnected and ruining just about everything. This is my quick first-reaction. On one side was Sherry Turkle, that avatar of “digital dualism” (more on this below) who recently wrote “The Flight From Conversation” in the New York Times and Stephen Marche who wrote “Is Facebook making us Lonely?” in The Atlantic. On the other side was Zeynep Tufekci, a researcher who communicates as well as these journalists*, responding to Turkle (also in the Atlantic). While Turkle and Marche’s headlines are intentionally catchy and dramatic, they are also sensationalist and misleading. The reality is not as captivating and Tufekci’s headline in response is far more accurate: “Social Media’s Small, Positive Role in Human Relationships.”

This is one of the many lessons provided by this hour of NPR: catchy arguments tend to trump data, even on nerdtacular public radio. Tufekci, outnumbered, did well given the dearth of air time provided relative to the more sensationalist ideas on the show. Further, the show (@drshow) seemed completely unaware of the fast-moving and engaging Twitter backchannel discussing the topics in much more nuance and detail than much of what was said on-air. [You’ve already enjoyed the irony of this as opposed to Turkle’s argument, right? Obviously.]

The next lesson Read More »

This post originally appeared on Cyborgology – read and comment on the post here.

I like Ellen DeGeneres. Lots of people respect what she does and she has a reputation of treating people right. However, I was surprised when I came across a clip from her popular daytime television show where she unsuspectingly broadcasts compromising Facebook photos of random audience members, a sketch I saw for the first time yesterday, and there seems to be at least a few more of these on YouTube.

I get it, it’s a gag on context collapse: photos taken in and for one time and place are dislocated onto broadcast television, to unexpected and hilarious results. Cute. However, the reality of this is not so funny, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show should know better.

The problem here is that Ellen is setting a precedent that it is okay and fun to share each others information to a larger audience than was initially intended; that blasting compromising photos from someone’s Facebook profile to other audiences, large or small, is a funny joke. For many, it isn’t.

Ellen’s lighthearted joke takes the form of much modern bullying; especially what is often called “cyberbullying” Read More »

This post originally appeared on Cyborgology – read and comment on the post here.

 This is part of a series of posts highlighting the Theorizing the Web conference, April 14th, 2012 at the University of Maryland (inside the D.C. beltway). See the conference website for information as well as event registration.

Experiencing global events through social media has become increasingly common. For those in the West, the uprisings over the past few years in the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere were especially striking because social media filled an information void created by the lack of traditional journalists to cover the dramatic events. By simply following a hashtag on Twitter, we tuned into those on the scene, shouting messages of revolution, hope, despair, carnage, persistence, misinformation, debate, sadness, terror, shock, togetherness; text and photos bring us seemingly closer to the events themselves.

But of course the Twitter medium is not neutral. It has shaped what we see and what we do not. Where is the truth in all of this? The intersection of knowledge, power, struggle and the radically new and transformative power of social media begs for intense theorizing. How we conceptualize, understand, define and talk about this new reality lays the path forward to better utilizing social media for journalistic and political purposes.

This is why the keynote for Theorizing the Web 2012 conference (College Park, MD, April 14th) features Andy Carvin (NPR News) and Zeynep Tufekci (UNC) in conversation. Carvin (@acarvin) has become well known for his innovative use of Twitter as a journalistic tool. Tufekci (@techsoc) has emerged as one of the strongest academic voices on social movements and social media and brings a theoretical lens to help us understand this new reality. Together, insights will be made that have impact beyond just journalism but to all researchers of technology as well as those outside of academic circles.

Who is Andy Carvin; and What Do We Call Him?

Without a deep background in professional journalism, Carvin’s actual title at NPR is “Senior Strategist.” However, Read More »